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Everyday Heroes: Gigi Pedraza

Peruvian-born Gigi Pedraza never dreamed of living in the United States. But love has a funny way of changing the future, as she learned when she moved to Chicago in 2001 to be with her boyfriend, Omar, despite not knowing any English.

Pedraza took ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and followed her future husband to Boston before the two settled in Atlanta in 2002.

“The first time I tried to order at McDonald’s, I didn’t understand the person behind the counter,” she said. “I still couldn’t speak English well, and the Southern accent was hard on my ears after six months in Boston.”

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Gigi Pedraza

Credit: Photo Courtesy of Gigi Pedraza

Pedraza worked on her language skills, gave birth to two daughters and volunteered with the Latin American Association, where her professional background in marketing and nonprofits was put to good use.

“But I also realized the vast need for support in our community, especially around leadership development and strategic communication,” she said. “I had the idea for an organization that could fundraise and invest in projects by Latinos, for Latinos.”

Pedraza was inspired by the booming growth of Latino communities across the state and by the lack of local community groups addressing their needs. After two years of planning, she launched the Latino Community Fund in 2017 to pool resources and disperse them to various organizations whose members’ experiences are similar to her own.

“These are emerging, grassroots community groups often led by immigrants who don’t speak English,” she said. “And they’re looking for funding.”

Today, the fund has 39 member organizations that connect to the estimated 1.1 million Latinos across the state. Pedraza and 13 staffers help them with services, coaching, workshops, development, strategic planning and advocacy.

“We encourage them to take positions on issues such as in-state tuition, health care access and drivers licenses,” she said. “We help incubate them so they can become active, free-standing organizations.”

In 2020, the organization’s objectives shifted drastically when the pandemic struck. Members were in dire need of food, mental health services and health care. What began as a $250,000 relief fund quickly dwindled.

“We created a rubric on how to prioritize our dollars and started raising money,” said Pedraza. “A month later, we had more than $3 million going to 23 organizations. That year, we fed about 180,000 people; delivered 5,000 COVID tests to high-density, immigrant areas; recruited 80 volunteers who spoke 16 different languages to work with us; and connected people to about 20,000 vaccines. It was shocking to see how much we could do together.”

In parts of the state where no Latino organizations existed, Pedraza and a nine-person crew went door-to-door with food distributions, COVID tests and emergency resources. The work has inspired a shift in the organization’s goals.

“Before COVID, we didn’t have a health and well-being program, but that was established, and now we are looking into agreements with Emory, Mercer and Georgia State to help us. We also now have staff based in Tifton and Valdosta, and are looking to strengthen relationships in those areas.”

Pedraza’s efforts to support the state’s Hispanic population have earned accolades from a number of sources. In 2017, she was named a Hispanics in Philanthropy Fellow by the national Council on Foundations. A year later, she received the NFL’s Hispanic Heritage Leadership award and the Atlanta Dream’s Women of Inspiration award. She was named among the 50 Most Influential Latinos by the Georgia Hispanic Chamber in 2020 and was inducted into the group’s hall of fame.

“I’m always very surprised by these awards,” she said. “I always saw myself as the person in the back. It’s been an interesting and long journey as someone whose face is now in the forefront.”

HOW TO HELP

For more information on Latino Community Fund Georgia, please visit https://lcfgeorgia.org/.

Follow LCF Georgia on Instagram @lcf_georgia.


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead. We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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