Page 46 - BusinessWest May 2, 2022
P. 46

     Peter Gillen
Principal, West Springfield Middle School; Age 39
Ysabel Garcia
Founder, Estoy Aqui LLC; Age 29
Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about. prevention and social-justice training to
But Ysabel Garcia knows firsthand that it is a subject that must be addressed. A first-generation Dominican immigrant, she identifies as a psychiatric survivor who experienced what she calls the “failures of the mental-health system.”
“I got stuck in the psychiatric hospitalization residential programs system,” she explained. “I started this
whole journey of hospitalizations. Social workers started to come to the home we moved into ... but the thing about that is that any time I said that I was suicidal, they wouldn’t ask me questions or anything like that. The only thing they did was pick up the phone and call 911. Then, police would come to the home and then get me into basically an emergency room for hours to then be hospitalized, to then be thrown into residential programs ... every two to three months, I was in the hospital just because social workers didn’t know how to handle conversations about suicide.”
Eventually, Garcia obtained her GED and then a degree in child psychology from Bay Path University, where she would later earn her master of public health degree. After she began working in the field, she quickly realized that the system was lacking.
Her answer was to create Estoy Aqui LLC, an education initiative that provides suicide-
thought were too high for them.
“My passion has always been helping people
do things they didn’t think they could,” he said. “There’s no bigger thrill than seeing someone accomplish something they thought was too difficult, and the perfect avenue for that passion is coaching and teaching.”
And he’s been successful in both roles. In 2007, he received the Harold W. Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Teaching. As for coaching, he was head coach of the West Springfield boys and girls cross-country
and track and field teams for several years, leading them to a combined total of six league championships. Currently, he coaches with three youth basketball programs for his three eldest daughters in the East Longmeadow Parks and Recreation Department.
Meanwhile, he serves on the board of directors for the New England League of Middle Schools, he’s a Massachusetts State Middle Level Athletics Commission board member, and he’s a co-founder of NPT Education, LLC, an educational consulting and training company that provides many free services to educators across the country.
In short, he can spell ‘success,’ even when several of the letters are missing.
— Elizabeth Sears
organizations and businesses primarily serving Latinx and black communities
to raise awareness of the underlying sociocultural and racial factors that increase suicide risk in these populations.
Looking back on her own experiences, she saw a clear need for such a venture. “I thought, ‘why is there nobody talking about what I care about?’ I started researching and looking for organizations to find out who is talking about suicide or who is talking about the psychiatric system, the abuses that go on in there, because it is not only that I was involuntarily hospitalized, it’s also that I went through physical restraints, solitary confinement, and a bunch of abuses.”
Garcia realized that the people working in the psychiatric system didn’t take into consideration social or cultural factors or assimilation problems that someone like herself went through.
“They looked at everything through a very white lens,” Garcia said, and she knew she needed to do something about it. She’s doing just that, as a social-justice educator, a skilled dialogue facilitator, a wounded healer, and a change agent.
— Elizabeth Sears
  Peter Gillen has been a champion on Wheel of Fortune. Indeed, he and his wife, Lynn, won some money and a cruise on the popular game
show a few years ago.
But that’s just one, albeit high-profile,
example of his ability to solve problems and come up with the right answers to some difficult questions.
Indeed, Gillen, a former English teacher, is now principal of West Springfield Middle School, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the Commonwealth — and also one of the most diverse; there are more than 1,000 students
at the school, and more than 20 different languages are spoken.
All this presents a challenge, and Gillen, as noted, enjoys challenges.
“One of the things about the job that I love
is that every day is active; I love that every day is a problem to solve, and different people to connect with,” said Gillen, who, through his leadership, has led his school to a number-3 ranking among middle schools in the state, according to U.S. News and World Report,
an accomplishment that helped him earn Massachusetts State Principal of the Year honors in 2019.
But for Gillen, it’s not about awards and rankings, but instead about creating a successful learning environment and helping students reach higher and clear hurdles they might have
  A 2 2 2022

   44   45   46   47   48