Living among a variety of cultures and races was the norm for Vanessa Gongora, who was born in Queens, New York, to Colombian immigrants. When she moved to Mount Pleasant with her husband and small children, she was surprised to find an almost homogenous lack of diversity in Charleston.
“I don’t know why diversity’s such an issue here,” she says. “When you have a great deal of diversity, you learn to communicate.”
Vanessa loves her new community and marketing job, but arriving just as the national rhetoric against Syrian refugees became a hot topic left her unsure of which side of the argument her general community would take. Soon, Vanessa discovered Carry the Future, a program founded in Fall 2015 by Cristal Logothetis. Cristal, a California mom, was working as a volunteer in Greece when she recognized the simple need for refugee parents to keep their children physically secure, and she began collecting used baby carriers to send to Europe for the refugees. The thought of parents emerging from the Mediterranean carrying their children and belongings with no tools but their bare hands required Vanessa’s conscience to take action.
Recognizing the challenges of being a newcomer, Vanessa teamed up with Amber Allen to start a collection drive. Using her years of marketing experience working with influential magazine publishers, Vanessa used a simple phrase to draw attention to the drive’s Facebook invitation: “HELP REFUGEE BABIES.” The need to safely carry a child out of harm’s way is a thread that touches all mothers, and community support quickly galvanized behind the cause, which led to a local mosque donating money for shipping and hosting an interfaith “packing party.” Vanessa is now Carry the Future’s S.C. coordinator.
“I believe in karma," she says. “I owe this as a first-generation American—to be a better American by speaking for the voiceless. Immigrant people are trying to come here for safety and to work hard. Combine survival instinct with opportunity, and you’ll get a better benefit for us all.”
Words by Shani Gilchrist
Photo by Karson Photography