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Everyday Heroes: Pia Valeriano

Community organizer

Pia Valeriano smiles widely as she dances the traditional Filipino tinikling, but she makes sure not to lose her focus as she hops between the bamboo poles clacking to the beat of the music.

For many Filipinos in the crowd, this celebration of Kalayaan, Philippine Independence Day, is a special occasion to come together as a minority within a minority. Georgia is home to nearly half a million people who identify as Asian, according to the census, but only about 47,000 Filipinos.

“It’s important to me because somehow, you feel at home,” said Valeriano, 60, who organized the event in June. “Sometimes, we want to belong to a community.”

Credit: Kendra A. Ransum

Credit: Kendra A. Ransum

The Gwinnett County resident has become a pillar of that community, dedicating herself to helping homesick Filipinos feel welcome and passing the culture and traditions on to the next generation.

In addition to organizing festivals, Valeriano, who works as the assistant director of programs for the Global Health Department at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, is also quick to respond to crises.

In 2021, she spearheaded back-to-back fundraisers for the Philippines following the Taal Volcano eruption and Typhoon Odette, which devastated the country.

Valeriano has also held a series of public health workshops on COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

“People were dying and really getting sick because of it,” Valeriano said. “I put together the [workshops] and invited some Emory faculty to volunteer and speak to our community.”

Originally from Puerto Princesa, Valeriano moved to the United States with her husband, Maynard Valeriano, when she was 23 years old.

In Georgia, she raised two children, sometimes alone when her husband was deployed while in the U.S. Army for several months up to a year each time.

Since her sons have grown, Valeriano has turned to community service, filling leadership positions with the Filipino-American Association of Greater Atlanta, the Philippine American Women’s Association in Georgia and the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia.

Valeriano said she enjoys being a resource for other Filipinos and she cherishes the many friendships she’s made through her community engagement.

Ate Pia is a very helpful woman,” said Maria Rebecca Redondo Eide, using the Filipino honorific for “big sister” to refer to Valeriano.

Eide, 51, who goes by “Bex” to her friends, emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2011 and joined local Filipino organizations thanks to Valeriano.

“She will just inform me like, ‘Oh, Bex, there is an event, would you like to come?’” Eide said. “If she sees that you need help, she will do it for you. She is not expecting anything in return.”

Juliet Pingul, 47, another friend of Valeriano’s, said she didn’t meet another Filipino person for five years after moving to Georgia from North Carolina in 2005.

Since Valeriano took her under her wing, Pingul has found her own place in the community. She can often be found cooking and selling traditional Filipino food at festivals and gatherings.

“Being with Ate Pia makes me feel at home,” she said.

HOW TO HELP

For information on upcoming events, visit https://www.atl-filam.org/ and https://www.paccga.org/.


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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