As an advocate for the underrepresented, Michelle works alongside Habitat for Humanity Portland Region to support people through the home buying process while building a framework for racial equity in our culture, processes, and local impact. Her passion for people and dedication to community-led activism aid her in the pursuit of social justice.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Michelle left home in search of personal and professional growth. She learned about different cultures by spending a summer in Cambodia, studying abroad in Spain, and exploring other countries throughout Asia and Europe. After two years of graduate studies in Hungary, Michelle left for the United States and joined Habitat through AmeriCorps.
Michelle’s exposure to different cultures, coupled with her undergrad in Social Geography, graduate education in American Culture and Latino Representation in Media, as well as her background as a Latina served as a catalyst to the work she carries out now. Michelle’s passion for equity work and improving organizational structures led her to take up the Equity and Inclusion Specialist position at Habitat. She now leads the Equity Team and works cross-departmentally to help shape a more equitable and inclusive organizational culture.
Michelle is well respected among her peers and has strong bonds within the nonprofit and homebuyer community. However, Michelle did not have a strong foundation when she first moved to the U.S. She faced the barrier of being one of the only people of color in a predominantly White space. At first, she kept to herself.
“I was a lot quieter. I was not as confident in myself but over time, I’ve become more comfortable speaking out,” she said. “And being a voice for others in the organization that don’t generally have a voice.”
As she adjusted to her new life, she built relationships with Habitat homebuyers and connections with community partners through Living Cully; advocating alongside neighbors and activists for investing in Northeast Portland’s Cully district—one of Oregon’s most diverse neighborhoods. For Michelle, the initial obstacles she faced in the U.S motivated her to become a voice for the underrepresented within Habitat for Humanity.
“That’s been really important to me, making sure that everyone in our organization is heard,” she said.
When Habitat partnered with the Center for Equity and Inclusion in 2019, Michelle joined a diverse team of colleagues in a deep dive into racial equity. As a proud Puertorriqueña, Michelle’s passion for equity-focused work motivated her to take up additional responsibilities; helping to create a foundation for diversity, equity, and inclusion to infuse Habitat’s culture and strengthen our impact.
“I have really appreciated the space that I’ve been given in this organization to really grow and adapt,” she said.
A self-proclaimed idealist, Michelle enjoys being a leader and a support system for other people of color and marginalized communities. When looking into the future, she hopes to continue to see the community voice impact Habitat’s works.
Michelle is a traveler at heart and loves exploring urban landscapes in each country she visits. In the future, she hopes to move back to Southeast Asia. When she’s not adventuring, you can find Michelle digging into a new book or reveling in the company of friends.