By Antonio Caro, Development Officer
At Mary’s Center, we bring compassionate people together to impact lives and strengthen communities – individuals like Viki Betancourt, one of the newest members of our Board of Directors. Her path to Mary’s Center has been one of loss, resilience, and a relentless commitment to break the cycle of poverty by improving the quality of life for people and communities. This is her “why” story.
With her parents, three siblings, grandmother, and a set of suitcases in hand, Viki emigrated from Cuba to the United States in search of new opportunity. “Living in Dallas was a culture shock,” said Viki, “especially seeing how other Latinos were treated poorly. They were not seen as white and therefore not afforded the same opportunities. It was a bit of a shock to see other Spanish-speaking people treated differently based on the color of their skin and ethnicity.”
From those early experiences in Dallas, Viki decided to dedicate her studies and eventual career to combatting issues of social justice. “I wanted to fight for the basic things that everyone should have access to.” After attending college at George Washington University, she hoped to attend law school but couldn’t afford tuition, so she started working at major law firms as a paralegal. Eventually, she joined the World Bank, where “they were doing what I wanted to do, helping develop communities, but on a larger scale.”
Life was going well for Viki. At the World Bank, she moved her way up and became the Administrator for the Legal Department. She was a proud homeowner, wife, and mother to three beautiful children. Until her life came to a halt.
One of the most tragic and traumatic losses that life can deal out to a person is the death of a child. For Viki, she experienced that tragedy twice. Her oldest son died of a cardiac condition as a senior at Morehouse, and her other son died by suicide two years later. Nothing could have prepared Viki for such extreme anguish. “I fell apart at the seams,” she said. Fortunately, the World Bank let her take a few months off to mourn and spend more time with her husband and daughter.
During her time off, she began to reflect on life. “I remember sitting on my deck two weeks after the death of one of my sons. I thought, ‘What do the poor do when they go through such a loss? How do they afford to mourn a child?’ When my first son died, we flew the whole family down, covered the cost of his burial, and booked rooms at a hotel. Expenses weren’t a factor. It was then I decided that my purpose in life was to get more directly involved with community organizations that help people, and to me more importantly, children.”
Turning anguish into action.
Viki returned to the World Bank with her heart set on the community. She became the manager of the World Bank’s Community Outreach Program and, in time, she helped create the World Bank’s Community Connections Fund. Under her leadership, the fund instilled a culture of philanthropy by creating a workplace giving program that matched employee gifts. In addition, through the Community Outreach Program, she leveraged the World Bank’s highly skilled workforce to help DC-area nonprofits improve their performance measurement and data collection efforts.
“By providing mission-driven organizations with the grants and technical assistance to build a robust performance measurement system, we began to help nonprofits across the region improve their programming and data collecting efforts.” One of those nonprofits was Mary’s Center.
“I remember the first time I met Maria Gomez. I was enthralled by her commitment to the Social Change Model. She and every Mary’s Center employee lived and breathed by the model.”
After learning about Mary’s Center and helping fund evaluation work through the Community Outreach Program, Viki saw how the Social Change Model strengthened communities through the appropriate combination of healthcare, education, and social support. She was especially amazed by the emphasis on behavioral health care.
“Behavioral health care makes the biggest difference,” said Viki. “If you can get people healthy in their emotions and in their minds, they begin to gain the confidence to be able to move forward. This is especially important now. The trauma that our community has been facing is magnified in times of a pandemic. It’s so frightening to think of kids without care, children that might be stuck in homes that are abusive, or the fear and trauma that has been formed due to COVID-19.”
Becoming a member of the Board of Directors.
Viki retired from the World Bank in 2012, but she continued contributing to the Community Connections Fund, which supports Mary’s Center to this day. Last year, a member of our Board of Directors approached Viki and asked her to join the Board to help Mary’s Center navigate these difficult times. “I was enjoying my retirement,” said Viki, “but when COVID hit, I found myself writing a lot of checks and going on a lot of direct relief drop-offs for families in need. The pandemic made me realize how fortunate I am even in retirement. I had to act.”
As a new member of the Board of Directors, Viki assists the organization in its development efforts and upcoming CEO transition. When asked why she chose to return and serve, Viki responds, “As human beings, we’re not complete until we can be of service. If you can spare time or money, you should. It makes a world of difference.”
This National Volunteer Week, we want to express our most sincere gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers and leaders like Viki who strengthen our community through their service. Your support not only makes our work possible but also transforms the lives of thousands of families throughout the region. To learn more about how you can get involved, click here.