Born in East Harlem to Puerto Rican parents in the 1970s, Frances Lopez grew up navigating two worlds.
“All my life I’ve been that person who kind of translated for my parents and advocated for them, read their mail and navigated the systems for them,” she said. “Everything from tax returns to anything that had to do with American society in a sense.”
In East Harlem – also referred to as “El Barrio” by the large number of Puerto Ricans who call it home – Frances was accustomed to being one of many Latinas in her community. But after a push from her middle school teacher to take the specialized high school exam, Frances entered Stuyvesant High School. It was the first time she felt different in an educational environment.
“That’s where I realized that everyone wasn’t like me and that I spoke another language,” she said. “I was different and other.”
She attended Brown University for her undergrad studies and received her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. After spending time in Ivy League schools, she learned that her community didn’t have access to the resources that many of her peers did.
At Brown, she was part of the Third World Center, which was created to serve the needs of students of color and allow them to explore race and ethnicity through lectures and programs. Frances realized that the skills she used to act as an advocate for her parents could translate to a career.
Once she finished school, Frances knew she needed to go back home to serve the community that raised her.
“It was that whole expanse and journey of being in cream of the crop educational places that inspired my commitment to creating paths for other Latinos, to really to be the voice for people, and empower our community to rise up and realize our talents and achieve our dreams,” she said.
For more than 28 years, Frances has worked in preventive services at Children’s Aid. Our preventive programs help stabilize families experiencing crisis. The most important aspect of her job is building relationships with the families and connecting them to resources so that if they experience a crisis again, they know how to navigate the issues and can avoid the child welfare system.
“We get involved at a time when the family is in crisis and the train has gone off the tracks,” she said. “We all roll up our sleeves together to get the train back on the tracks and moving in a forward direction and off into the sunset.”
Frances was drawn to Children’s Aid for the same reasons she decided to pursue a career in social work.
“Children’s Aid is a pillar in our community and has been devoted to helping to elevate our communities,” she said. “That’s why I gravitated to social work – helping people in my community, advocating for them, and then working with families to make sure that the next generation has paths to success and progress. That’s where my heart and soul is.