East End Beacon

A Night of Community for SEPA Mujer

Award winners at SEPA Mujer's gala Thursday evening.
Award winners at SEPA Mujer’s gala Thursday evening.

The Islandia-based Latina advocacy group SEPA Mujer has been working for 24 years to help give Long Island women a voice, but over the past couple years, their presence has become much more pronounced on the East End.

That’s due in part to Sandra Gil, who passed away earlier this fall and was an early advocate for bringing SEPA Mujer’s services to the East End, and to the community outreach of Riverside Rediscovered, which plays host to the newest of SEPA Mujer’s growing network of chapters throughout Long Island.

Ms. Gil was the recipient of the 2017 Legacy Achievement Award and Riverside Rediscovered received the Partnership of the Year Award at SEPA Mujer’s 24th annual gala, “We Are The Movement,” at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow Oct. 5.

The group also awarded volunteer Marcia Estrada as the Member of the Year and honored Maria Avila with their Rising Star award.

Ms. Gil, who lived in Brentwood and worked for the Suffolk County Department of Health, was instrumental in helping SEPA Mujer start the Hampton Bays chapter, which meets at the Parish Center of St. Rosalie’s Church. 

“Don’t let the lack of knowledge stop you from getting the help you need and deserve. Give back and lend a helping hand. Let your knowledge and personal experience be the help others are going to need,” Ms. Gil had said in a video prepared before her death from uterine cancer in September. “Always remember to keep your sense of humanity.”

She said she often turns to a quote from farm labor advocate Cesar Chavez for guidance:

“We can not seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others.”

Her family accepted her award on her behalf, and Kathya Verdesoto-Martinez sang the song Amor Eterno (Eternal Love) in her honor.

SEPA Mujer Executive Director Martha Maffai presents Riverside Rediscovered's Angela Huneault and Siris Barrios with their award.
SEPA Mujer Executive Director Martha Maffai presents Riverside Rediscovered’s Angela Huneault and Siris Barrios with their award.

Riverside Rediscovered, a community engagement project fostered by Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer working to revitalize Riverside, also shares the ethos of seeking to have everyone in the community do better.

“They work tirelessly to make everything they touch better. They work all hours of the day and night to make the community better,” said Riverhead School Board member and longtime local activist Ron Fisher of the group’s community liaisons, Siris Barrios and Angela Huneault. “It’s an incredible partnership for me and the work that I do and especially for SEPA Mujer and all the work that they do.”

“We reached out to SEPA Mujer because of the impact they’re having on their membership, on people on ground,” said Ms. Barrios in a video prepared for the awards ceremony. 

Riverside Rediscovered has hosted leadership training and chapter meetings for SEPA Mujer over the past year.

SEPA Mujer Executive Director Martha Maffei said this year has been a challenging one for immigrants, but it has also been a time in which new community alliances have been forged and many people have offered compassion in new and different ways by offering to protect immigrants.

Tijuana Fulford of The Butterfly Effect Project and Siris Barrios of Riverside Rediscovered at the Oct. 5 gala.
Tijuana Fulford of The Butterfly Effect Project and Siris Barrios of Riverside Rediscovered at the Oct. 5 gala.

Ms. Maffei said she often draws inspiration from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s account of where human rights start:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”


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