Courtesy of Yale

New Haven Latinx community organization Junta for Progressive Action, also known as JUNTA, hired Brunilda Pizarro FES ’19 as the interim executive director following the departure of Daniel Reyes.

Pizarro, whose interim term will begin on Feb. 1, started working with the center in 2018 as its Climate Change & Disaster Fellow in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in nearly two decades. Previously, she had worked in public health and botany before coming to study at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She and Reyes will now undergo a month of transition before he leaves the organization on Jan. 31. Reyes, who will depart after 16 months at the helm, is leaving to become the Chief Program Officer at the LGBTQ Center in New York City, according to a letter from Reyes posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

“We are very excited to have such an innovative and creative leader take the helm of JUNTA,” Board Chair Leta Highsmith said in a press release from the nonprofit. “The entire JUNTA Board of Directors is proud of Daniel’s incredible work during his tenure and appreciate his foresight in seeking out such a gifted interim replacement.”

Founded in 1969, JUNTA is New Haven’s oldest Latinx community-based nonprofit. Its mission is to build bonds with Latinx communities in the area to improve the social, economic and civic environments of its constituents, all while upholding important cultural traditions, according to the organization’s website. The nonprofit’s scope includes the diaspora of all of Latin America, including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. It runs a number of local events throughout the year including a coquito contest — a traditional Puerto Rican coconut-based cocktail served around Christmastime — and the annual Fiesta Latina at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Pizarro brings a wealth of experience in scholarly and community work focusing on black and Latinx communities to the job. Before moving to New Haven to attend Yale, she worked on a public health asthma initiative in East Harlem and researched the cultural knowledge of medicinal plants of Latinx and Caribbean communities in New York for the New York Botanical Garden.

At Yale, Pizarro focused on the intersections between the built environment and urban inequality. She took classes and received mentorship from across the university, with special emphasis in Latinx studies, sociology and ethnography. Ultimately, her master’s thesis focused on the embodiment of disaster, forced migration and Latinx placemaking in the diaspora.

“The applied insights and technical experience I have gained at Yale have broadened my understanding of the barriers that are impacting the community I will be serving and have given me the necessary tools to design tailored solutions to increase access to services,” Pizarro told the News. “I’m committed to continue to collaborate with the Latinx community in New Haven to advance service provision and elevate our collective voice.”

Pizarro’s involvement in the New Haven Latinx community began with an experience with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. When the hurricane made landfall in Puerto Rico in September of 2017, Pizarro was volunteering as an adult English instructor at the Family Resource Center at Fair Haven School. The next month, a number of women who had fled the island joined the class and shared what it was like to navigate their new home in New Haven.

In her first role at JUNTA as the organization’s Climate Change & Disaster Fellow, she aided the organization as it assisted evacuees from the disaster who resettled in the Greater New Haven area. Newly-inaugurated Mayor Justin Elicker named Pizarro to his Transition Team, which recently produced its transition report.

Reyes’ 16-month term as director was marked by the stabilization and reorganization of the entire nonprofit, which had been on the verge of closing its doors due in part to the state budget crisis of 2018. Reyes told the news that he and JUNTA staff secured alternative funding streams and revamped the organization’s fundraising strategy. JUNTA also underwent a full rebrand of its programming, breaking the nonprofit into three sections — JUNTA 360, JUNTA Youth and JUNTA Rises — with each dealing with specific services and constituent groups.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to rebrand the organization, reestablish connections with different sectors of the Latino community,” Reyes told the News in an interview. “And really take a more inclusive approach to ensuring that JUNTA is a beacon for all Latino communities in the Greater New Haven area.”

Pizarro and Reyes will work together during a transition period until the end of the month. The goals of the period, Reyes said, will be to introduce Pizarro as the new leader to various community stakeholders and get her up to speed on back-end strategy such as fundraising.

Reyes is leaving to take on a similar role at the LGBTQ Center in New York City. He told the News that he “wasn’t looking to leave” but that the job offers an opportunity to “weave together a strategy that can be inclusive of everybody.” Reyes plans to stay on with JUNTA as a pro bono consultant to Pizarro on finances.

Pizarro will continue JUNTA’s established work, but has also promised to think creatively about new possibilities to support the organization. She also plans to apply to fill the role in a permanent capacity.

JUNTA is located at 169 Grand Avenue in Fair Haven.

Jose Davila IV | jose.davilaiv@yale.edu