Home Posts tagged Yhidda Ocasio
Class of 2024

Director of Youth, Violence Prevention, and Court Support Programs, YWCA of Western Massachusetts: Age 38

Yhidda OcasioYhidda Ocasio knows struggle. So she knows how to connect with those who are struggling.

She arrived in the U.S. as a young girl, after her family decided to escape the rampant crime and crushing poverty of Colombia to pursue the American dream. As a young teen, she sought employment at a McDonald’s because she could bring extra food home after her shifts, and her family didn’t have to go to bed hungry.

So, in her 17 years working at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts in Springfield, she’s been able to bring deep empathy to three roles — a young-parent support counselor and case manager, assistant program director of the domestic-violence shelter, and, currently, director of Youth, Violence Prevention, and Court Support Programs. She has also worked part-time as a Human Rights officer at the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

“The YWCA has been a rewarding opportunity for me to give back to the community, and I’ve been able to apply the challenges I went through, not just in Colombia, but the barriers here as an immigrant,” Ocasio told BusinessWest. “My mom became a single mom several years after I arrived here, and she was working two to three jobs. Seeing my mom go through that struggle changed the outlook I had in regard to other women — single moms who were struggling.”

Over the years, Ocasio has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Westfield State University and Northcentral University, respectively, earning induction into the National Society of Leadership and Success at the latter — all this with English as her second language.

But that’s to be expected from someone who lives by the words in Matthew 19:26: “with God, all things are possible.” And she’s quick to express gratitude for everyone who has supported her along the way, from her mother and brother to her husband, Juan Ocasio; from the leaders at DDS to YWCA CEO Elizabeth Dineen “for her relentless mentorship.”

Ocasio has spoken at statewide trainings for nonprofits on topics like sexual assault, domestic violence, and healthy relationships, as well as addressing community events on immigration issues and refugee challenges. When she became a U.S. citizen in 2019, her colleagues threw her a huge party.

“It was a great day at the YWCA and a wonderful day to be an American,” Dineen said. “This is still the land of opportunity, and as a country, we are most fortunate to have humans like Yhidda Ocasio want to become a citizen.”

—Joseph Bednar