As an eight-year-old girl, Blanca Lopez left the familiarity of her native Peru when her family immigrated to the U.S., settling first in Rye and eventually in Port Chester.
Lopez knows what it's like to arrive in a new country, with all the challenges of adjusting to a new language and culture. As an adult, her childhood experience helps her relate to recent immigrants who are trying to find their way in a strange new country.
Lopez, 35, a community activist and school board member in Port Chester, was honored recently as a "Rising Star" by the Business Council of Westchester. She was nominated by Andrea Kocsis, executive director of Human Development Services of Westchester.
The council named "40 Under 40 Rising Stars," a diverse group that includes sharp financial minds, tireless volunteers, dedicated educators and advocates for local arts and music. The 40 honorees were feted at a June 9 celebration in Purchase.
As a former congressional staffer for Rep. Nita Lowey and former campaign manager for Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla, Lopez has experience in public policy and local politics. Her resume also includes prominent current positions -- Lopez sits on Port Chester's Board of Education and is director of neighborhood preservation at Human Development Services of Westchester.
Lopez was the first Latina elected to public office in Port Chester, and her work for Lowey put her in a position to advocate for the urban community on issues like immigration and housing.
Although awards and recognition were the furthest things from her mind when she began her career as an activist, Lopez says "it's quite an honor."
“I was very humbled and excited,” she said of hearing the news.
Lopez’s roots began in Lima, Peru. After about a decade living in Rye, her family moved to Port Chester around the time Lopez began college studies.
Majoring in Latin American and Latino Studies during her undergraduate career at Fordham University, she decided to work at National Council of La Raza, in Washington, D.C., before going on to graduate school. Specializing in policy and civil rights, Lopez developed her passion for her advocacy work.
“I got my feet wet in social issues, not only with immigrants, but with Latino and Latino born citizens in this country,” she said.
After completing her masters degree in urban policystudies and management at the New University, she went to work for Lowey in 2002 as a community affairs representative. Lopez specialized in housing and immigration, serving as a go-between for Lowey and her constituents. She accomplished this mainly by communicating and discussing issues within the community, issues ranging from veteran affairs to housing. She said her focus on the urban community was of great importance, especially since she often times had the opportunity to talk to people from those neighborhoods and listen to what they had to say.
“Working for Lowey opened doors for me, especially for learning about volunteering, getting to know great people and networking,” she said.
The two-and-a-half years she spent working for the congresswoman helped her get to know her community and the issues its people face.
Today, Lopez works for the Human Development Services of Westchester, which provides low-income housing for people of all backgrounds. The non-profit organization helps more than a thousand people every year.
For more information regarding the ceremony, visit www.westchesterny.org.
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