BELOIT—Maria Elena White has served as a cultural ambassador for the greater Beloit community for almost 19 years. Using her bilingual talents to benefit numerous local organizations, Maria is being recognized as the Beloit Daily News Volunteer of the Month for October.
Born and raised in Mexico City, White gives a nod to the local version of Girl Scouts as her first memory of volunteerism, when she served as a leader of “Bees,” the equivalent of Brownies in the United States.
A second memory involved meeting her sister’s neighbor, David, who had a heart problem, which broke her heart. White created “Rizo—The Dancing Clown” and wrote plays. As Rizo, she organized a show for hospital children with serious health issues who had no one visiting them or family support. She would take books to the streets, performing, providing some cultural instruction.
While attending the University of Mexico, studying sociology, community service was required for her Government in Literacy class. She was assigned to serve a poor neighborhood of 10 women who wanted to learn to read. For six months, White was amazed at the commitment of these women, who would meet for classes in their homes.
It was in Las Vegas that White met and fell in love with her first husband, and her daughter was born. Because of family in Beloit, they moved to the community. While the marriage ended, White’s relationship with her mother-in-law continued, so she made the decision to remain in Beloit.
White credits the wonderful teachers at Beloit Technical College where she received instruction in English as a second language. The college staff also encouraged her to get her GED and Master’s Degree, which she pursued at UW-Whitewater.
White began assisting others as an interpreter at a time when there were not many bilingual resources.
Currently, White teaches at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater for the Department of Languages and Literature and the Race & Ethnic Studies Program.
Since 2003, she has participated with the non-profit organization Pueblos Unidos of Beloit, whose mission is to meet the needs of the Hispanic community. In 2013, White was instrumental in establishing La Voz de Beloit, a newspaper published in Spanish. The digital launch of La Voz on Facebook and Instagram occurred in 2015.
White’s volunteer contributions endeavor to connect local organizations with the Spanish speaking community include the Beloit School District, YWCA, Lincoln Academy, WIC Program, Stateline Community Literacy Council and more.
Alicia de Gregorio, Professor of Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, finds White to be an inspiration.
“María Elena White’s contributions to the Hispanic community of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois are inspiring. Her assistance to speakers of Spanish newly arrived in the area, her leadership as General Director and editor of the non-profit Spanish-language newspaper La Voz de Beloit, and her collaboration with community, health and educational institutions in the region make a difference in the life of many on a daily basis.”
La Voz was instrumental in providing information to the Latino community about the pandemic, working with the local health department to provide information about the vaccines.
Kristi Y. Cole, Ph.D., Chief Education Officer at the Lincoln Academy shares her admiration. “Maria Elena is a gift to the community of Beloit. Her passion for serving others is evident in all that she does. Maria continues to serve as a founding Governance Board member at The Lincoln Academy and is always sharing her insights and expertise. She is an advocate for education and has been instrumental in serving the Latinx community in Beloit. We are so thankful for Maria Elena’s leadership at The Lincoln Academy.”
When asked what inspires her continued volunteer efforts, White shares, “We are not a sum of individuals, we are a community. Therefore, we have a social responsibility and we all need to do our part.”