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Community Engagement Coordinator, HAPHousing, age 31
Springfield is a long way — in many respects — from the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Kelvin Molina served during Operation Enduring Freedom as a National Guardsman. But when a tornado hit Western Mass. on June 1, 2011 and devastated a 40-mile swath of homes and businesses in three counties, the scenes of bleakness weren’t much different.
As he took in the devastation from the twister, he recalled, “I was surprised — actually, shocked — but energized in trying to figure out what I had to do.”
Within hours, his Guard unit had been activated to provide logistical support for soldiers in Springfield, Monson, and Brimfield, dealing with a disaster that truly hit close to home for Molina, as the twister rendered his sister homeless.
Three years before, having earned degrees in Regional Planning/Environmental Science and Geographic Information Systems from Westfield State University, he caught the attention of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, landing a transportation-planning position with the agency. Molina moved laterally into community development there, but in 2012, he left for a similar position with HAPHousing that deals exclusively with Springfield, his hometown.
Now, he engages the Springfield community though the nonprofit, which provides assistance for homeless families and various services for homeowners.
“If we can’t answer the questions of people regarding housing,” he said, “we know who to contact, because we’ve been around for 45 years.”
As a recently certified national Neighborworks America leadership trainer, Molina has an additional role helping to train and empower community partners, city leaders, and interested residents to create safe, collaborative, and productive neighborhoods.
“We’ll be conducting training over the next two months,” he said, “and recruit 20 to 25 residents from the South End, Six Corners, and Old Hill neighborhoods and their corresponding councils to meet each other and learn from each other about tools that will empower them to make change.”
Whether he’s in a business shirt or a Kevlar vest, Molina always wants to be there to support and engage people — and transform communities, one neighborhood at a time.
— Elizabeth Taras