The Rapidian

Finding Her Voice: Gabriella de la Vega is a connector through the Community Media Center

Gabriella de la Vega has found her community voice through the Community Media Center. Now she wants to help others tell their stories.

Gabriella de la Vega

*On-air programmer WYCE 88.1 FM Saturdays and Sundays, 6-8 a.m.

*Key organizer for La Fiesta Mexicana each September

*Commissioner, City of Wyoming Parks and Recreation and Greater Wyoming Community Resource Alliance

*Board member, Community Media Center

*Certified Medical Interpreter for Stratus Video

 

Gabriella de la Vega

Gabriella de la Vega

Gabriella hosting a community event with Quinn Matthews

Gabriella hosting a community event with Quinn Matthews

Gabriella de la Vega is a connector. She sees the possibilities in each situation and makes sure the people who can collectively do something positive meet one another and partner to improve the community.

“I’m here to build a bridge between my community and resources to help them,” she said.

She is the model of what is listed as the Grand Rapids Community Media Center’s mission statement: “building community through media.”

Coming to the U.S. from Mexico in 1996 with three small children, Gabriella had little command of the language and a daunting path ahead of her.

“When I came to Grand Rapids, I heard people say that we are all on our own, there was no one wanting to assist us,” she said. “But I did not find that to be true. There were many organizations and persons ready and eager to help. You just had to find them.”

One of those organizations was UCOM, the United Church Outreach Ministry, whose dedicated team gave Gabriella and her young family a big boost.

The experience demonstrated to her that others in the Latinx community needed someone to make these resources more known. Her community needed a connector.

“Help was there,” she said. “but there was a language barrier that prevented people from finding it.”

That quest to be a connector led Gabriella to radio, where she learned about the power and potential of the medium. She worked at local Spanish-speaking stations such as 1410 AM, 1530 AM, and 810 AM. She honed her radio presence, doing informative, spiritual, and talk-oriented programming.

In 2007, Gabriella had the chance to meet Oscar Zuniga, the legendary Community Media Center (CMC) programmer for WYCE’s “El Mundo Musical” early-morning program. Zuniga was the first person to broadcast on WYCE in 1987 under the new CMC charter.

He saw Gabriella’s potential for connecting members of the Latinx community and took her under his wing, demonstrating the mission of the CMC and carving out an increasing amount of airtime for her on WYCE.

She began doing the Saturday and Sunday 6-8 a.m. programming slot, while Zuniga handled Monday through Friday. Zuniga has since retired (although he is called upon from time to time for substituting) and Deisy Madrigal now covers Monday through Wednesday, and new radio-mate Silverio (Silver) Cerda is on air Thursdays and Fridays. Gabriella helped to train both.

On Gabriella’s show, listeners are drawn in by her music selections, but in-between song sets she makes certain the Latinx community knows of the opportunities and resources available to them. She translates the helpful WYCE public service announcements (PSAs) into Spanish, and before COVID-19 limited in-studio guests she would choose a theme—the census, heart-disease, housing options, immigration services—and interview the experts who could assist people in her community.

Her emerging “connector” presence on WYCE has spilled into the many other community host roles, most notably as the key organizer of the La Fiesta Mexicana in early September.

Gabriella’s efforts have attracted notice in the community, and she was recently named an Athena Award finalist—for outstanding leaders who promote the inclusion of women—by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

Gabriella also serves people in need in her “day job” as a medical interpreter, assisting the communication between Latinx persons with health issues to medical professionals.

“Interpreting goes beyond translating,” she said. “Many medical terms are not easily translatable and people with serious medical issues are emotional. This is a complicated task.”

Her employer is a nationwide company, and she talks to people from coast to coast. On one occasion, a client from Georgia heard her name and voice and asked. “Are you Gaby from the radio station in Michigan?”

The person asking the question spends summers working in West Michigan and yes, listens to “El Mundo Musical” on WYCE.

Gabriella takes her work as a connector seriously and hopes to expand the involvement of the local Latinx community in the CMC’s programs and resources.

“There is so much at the CMC for my community to benefit from, like the Wealthy Theater, GRTV, The Rapidian, web development services,” she said. “I’m an eager to make sure they know about these opportunities.

“Sometimes, I hear a person say, ‘OK, Gaby’s here now, everything’s OK.’ You need a person you trust to point you to a place that can help you. That’s my calling at the CMC. I want to tell them, ‘You own this place. It is for the community—and that includes you.’”

Note: Michael Van Denend serves on the board of the Community Media Center

 

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