(Photo by Zari Tarazona)
Philadelphia adopted me as its child, said Yocasta Lora, associate state director of advocacy and community outreach at AARP.
Lora, who was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to the United States in September 2000 when she was 20 years old. Lora joined her father in New York City, but about three weeks later she decided to go to Philadelphia.
“It was a challenge because I didn’t speak the language and in Philly, we only knew one family,” she said. “So I took the risk to move from New York to Philadelphia.”
Lora’s first job in Philadelphia was as a housekeeper.
But the lack of Latinos living in the city, which Lora said isn’t true now, pushed her to learn more English and continue her education. The lack of Dominican leaders in the city also made her eager to do more, she added.
In 2001, Lora took a non-credit English language class at the Community College of Philadelphia and then enrolled in La Salle University’s Bilingual Undergraduate Studies for Collegiate Advancement program for Hispanic students. Once she finished the two-year program, Lora enrolled in La Salle for business administration and earned her bachelor’s degree in 2007.
“We have to start from the bottom and that’s how we do,” Lora said. “I think that’s why immigrants are so strong because we find that strength to keep going and to make it better.”
Once Lora finished her education, connectivity became a main focus in her work. Lora wanted Latinos from different countries to have more of a united business community, she said.
Her volunteer work has played a part in making those connections.
Lora is one of the founders of Dominicanos in the Delaware Valley, a group of Dominican professionals promoting Dominican culture and leadership. But you don’t have to be Dominican to join, Lora said. The group’s members try to connect with up-and-coming Dominican professionals and organizations supporting cultural activities and professional development.
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“The Dominican population is growing really fast, business owners, professionals,” she said. “So it’s really exciting to see how we’re connecting and plugged in with what is happening within the city.”
Until 2015, Lora worked as director of programs for the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GPHCC), an organization promoting the economic growth of Hispanic businesses and professionals.
But Lora’s work toward connectivity isn’t restricted to just the Latino community.
“Let’s learn from everywhere,” Lora said. “Let’s learn from different communities, how we can work together and support each other.”
For AARP, she focuses on community outreach and advocacy for the 50 and older crowd.
Lora oversees Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County and Bucks County. AARP has state offices across the country, but on the local level, we are customizing our advocacy and community outreach, Lora said.
AARP organizes community events and provides members local resources like volunteer opportunities, free tax preparation and caregiving information. AARP also coordinates with and funds local organizations to support their efforts to make sure people can “age in place,” Lora said.
“Meaning that they stay in their own communities, that they have the resources that they need to have a happy life, a healthy life, a secure life,” Lora added.
Lora made the jump to AARP since she saw a lack of Latinos advocating for the challenges older people face like age discrimination or a lack of retirement plans, she said. In her role, she builds relationships with state legislators, county officials and city leaders to advocate for health issues, affordable housing, accessible transportation, financial stability and more.
“I am there representing everyone,” Lora said. “But as a Latino, you also want to have a voice for the Latino community.”
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