Co-executive Director, Women of Color Health Equity Collective; Age 39
Jenise Katalina and her family are avid Marvel fans, always up to see the latest MCU movie. But the heroes on screen have nothing on Katalina.
She serves as the co-executive director of the Women of Color Equity Collective, which recognizes the mental-health issues that mothers face, and addresses them.
“To not get food on the table or the constant rejection you face trying to get assistance for your family, that plays a huge role in your mental health, and then that plays a huge role in your physical well-being,” said Katalina, adding that the Collective’s approach is to address things at a systemic level and support individuals at the same time. It is a holistic model that recognizes that mental and physical well-being impact each other.
Katalina has spent her career in family and social-service work, a field that essentially chose her, rather than the other around.
“I feel like I’ve always been in it; I started at a young age in high school working after-school programs, early-ed programs, and just continued,” she noted. “I worked in an after-school program that was a drop-in center in the North End of Springfield and really loved it. I enjoyed the people that I met and the people coming from different backgrounds and different experiences.”
The ability to build relationships and create engaging programs played a big role in inspiring her career.
“I felt like it was creating a safe space for them that they were able to have a say in, so they felt empowered to contribute toward decision making in that space,” she said.
Katalina went on to earn her master of social work degree from Springfield College. While making home visits, she became exposed to the different systems parents were trying to navigate. It was then that she noted the treatment and biases these parents faced. It was these experiences that brought her into social justice, knowing she had to explore these inequities.
“I wanted to know why people were being treated differently and why some families were getting access and other families not, when it made a huge difference on whether they could get food on the table for their children,” she explained. “And I wanted to know why they were being turned away or told that they didn’t qualify for things when I could see them struggling.”
Katalina’s leisure activities are an extension of her love of people and cultures. She enjoys taking her children to explore new places, cultures, and communities.
— Elizabeth Sears