Ivette Galarza is 2020 Top Florida Latino Lider!

Ivette Galarza is a Latina Mover N’ Shaker from Fort Myers, Florida.

Latin Times Media: Where are you and your family from? What is your Hispanic heritage

Ivette Galarza: Ivette was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY to Puerto Rican parents.  Her mom and dad were both from Moca, PR.  At a young age Ivette watched her mother with a 7th grade educational level advocate on behalf of a community of tenants that were at the verge of being evicted.  Ivette firmly believes that watching her mother walk through this multi-year journey is what birthed the passion within her to dedicate 27 years of her life to working on behalf of vulnerable children, families and communities.

Latin Times Media: Tell us about what you do for a living and how you got into it Ivette Galarza: Ivette graduated High School at the age of 16 and received a Presidential scholarship as a result of being in the top 10% of her graduating class.  She attended Edison Community College in Ft Myers Florida where she attained her Associate’s degree in Psychology and then transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University where she completed her Bachelor’s in Human Services.  After some years she returned to FGCU and attained a Masters in Clinical Social Work with a concentration in Administration.  

Ivette Galarza in Fort Myers, Florida is a recipient of
Latin Times 2020 TOP Florida Latino Lideres Award!

At the age of 18 Ivette began working at the Hope House, a residential group care home for children who had been separated from their parents due to issues of abuse and neglect.  She remembers beginning her work there as a “Child care Technician” and although she was initially hired to help children accomplish basic living skills such as completing homework, bathing, getting ready for school, etc, she quickly became the voice of advocacy on behalf of the kids at school meetings, case staffings, etc.  In a period of 2 years, she became the Administrative Assistant to the Director and became acquainted with not only the importance of service delivery to children and their families but also to the contractual obligations that served to fund such necessary work.  Her work at the Hope House allowed her to build working relationships with caseworkers at the Department of Children and Families and soon was recruited to work there.  She spent a year at DCF before she was recruited to serve as Program Director of the Family Connection Center, a visitation program for children and families in the dependency system, funded by DCF. 

After 4 years at the visitation program, Ivette happened to cross paths with a Social Worker at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association…and the rest was history.  It was then that she was introduced to the work of Head Start and served at RCMA for almost 18 years.   Ivette began her work at RCMA mentoring and coaching Family Support workers within a 2 county region.  During her tenure at RCMA Ivette eventually served as Associate Executive Director where she was ultimately responsible for the oversight and programmatic planning of contracts in excess of $60 million, serving approximately 7,000 children across the State of Florida.  Ivette devoted much of her time serving on local boards such as the Early Learning Coalition of SW Florida, the Hendry/Glades Health Advisory Council, and others.  At the National level, Ivette was elected to represent Region XII, which encompasses all Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the nation, on the Board of the National Head Start Association, and eventually, she served as Board Chair of the National Head Start Association.  She led the 49 member Board that supports the NHSA as the voice that advocates for policy and institutional changes needed to make sure that over 1 million Head Start children, and the staff and grantees that serve them, have what they need to succeed.  In this role, she served as an expert voice across the nation on issues of immigration, early childhood education, parent involvement, trauma-informed care, strategic planning and organizational leadership and capacity building. 

It’s been just under 2 years since Ivette expounded on yet another one of her passions.  Tapping into her entrepreneurial spirit she ventured out and became licensed as a builder and started Her Homes, LLC.  Since then, she, her brother and cousins have created a family owned and operated partnership with the goal of building communities within SWFL one home at a time! 

Latin Times Media: In your industry, what would you say separates you from your competition? Ivette Galarza: First and foremost…the fact that I am a female builder with a background in Clinical Social Work and organizational development! Last I checked, only 9% of General Contactor’s in Florida are females.  Secondly, that I have devoted almost 30 years in non-profit, advocacy, grant writing, structuring, and building programs…all of which I’m able to bring to the for the profit-building world!

Latin Times Media: During Covid 19, tell us about your biggest challenge/obstacle and how you overcame it/or are overcoming it Ivette Galarza: Balancing between the fears/needs of our customers and those of our employees.  We were faced with customers placing projects on hold because they feared for their safety and even for their finances and employees who also feared for their health and finances.  After much evaluation, we led with our hearts and did what was in the best interest of all…as owners we worked from home and for 3 weeks we reduced our field operations—while maintaining payroll for each of our staff members.  Our profit margins for the quarter were reduced drastically, but what came in terms of morale and commitment from the staff was something that could not come with a price tag!

Latin Times Media: Tell us about your biggest achievement and how you achieved it Ivette Galarza: One of her greatest accomplishments was leading RCMA in becoming a licensed child placement agency and starting the first monolingual Spanish speaking recruitment, training, and licensing program for foster parents in Ft Myers.  This came as a result of a partnership created with the Children’s Network of SW Florida after a story hit the news that highlighted the number of children ending up in foster care as a result of the deportation of their parents.  Many of these children ended up in foster homes in communities miles away from what was familiar to them and in communities that were culturally different than theirs.  When we dug deeper, we realized that there were no licensed foster homes within the rural communities of Labelle, Immokalee, and  Moore Haven because the classes being held were only in English—we began the monolingual Spanish speaking recruitment and licensing program and licensed many homes within these rural communities—ultimately allowing for children to remain in their communities.   

Additionally, just 2 years ago in partnership with the Hispanic American Association of SW Fla she started the Cyan Bright Scholarship Award.  This is a scholarship named after her late niece Cyan who passed away in a tragic accident.  The scholarship exists to provide financial assistance to students graduating High School and seeking college or trade school entrance. 

Latin Times Media: What is next for you? What can people expect to see from you? Ivette Galarza: It’s been just under 2 years since Ivette expounded on yet another one of her passions.  Tapping into her entrepreneurial spirit she ventured out and became licensed as a builder and started Her Homes, LLC.  Since then, she, her brother, and cousins have created a family-owned and operated partnership with the goal of building communities within SWFL one home at a time!  They are well on their way to bringing their passions full circle and will soon be starting a non-profit that will eventually build homes for children aging out of the foster care system.  Statistics show that 60% of the children aging out of the foster care system end up either homeless or victims of human trafficking.  Ivette believes that preparation for homeownership can help reduce these statistics.  She intends to write a program that will allow for targeting 14-year-olds within the system on a four-year journey that will eventually lead them to home ownership.  Additionally, she intends on creating programs that will allow for trade classes to be brought back into the school systems. 

Latin Times Media: What words of encouragement can you offer? Ivette Galarza: Palante! Que patras, ni pa impulso!!! Continue on a genuine path forward…looking back only for reflection on what’s needed to change the trajectory of what’s behind you!!!

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