VCU honors Wilder School Graduate Tanya González
Wilder School graduate Tanya González (M.P.A.’17/GPA) was selected as a 10 Under 10 honoree by the VCU Office of Alumni Relations. The 10 Under 10 awards program recognizes the noteworthy and distinctive achievements made by alumni who earned their first VCU degree (undergraduate, graduate or professional) within the past 10 years. This year’s honorees represent eight schools and colleges and six graduation years; eight of the honorees are from a marginalized population; and six are advanced degree holders with two pursuing advanced degrees.
Read her full bio from the 10 under 10 website:
Executive director, Sacred Heart Center
Tanya González lives with one guiding principle: “Liberation for all.” On any given day, she works toward this ultimate goal through public service, executive leadership, one-on-one relationships, advocacy, even dance. González grew up in McAllen, Texas, along the Mexican border, amid a community that straddled two cultures. After completing her undergraduate degree in Latin American studies at Brown University in 1998, she moved to Richmond, Virginia, taking a job with the city to help establish support systems for the area’s fast-growing Latinx community.
She spent more than a decade in that role, where she helped set up, then manage the Office of Multicultural Affairs. She built a network of services for Spanish speakers at the local government level and established two annual multicultural celebrations — Imagine Festival in south Richmond and El Juguetazo (Three Kings Day) in Chesterfield — both conceived to engage families in celebrating Latin heritage and traditions and enhance community connection.
In 2016, González became the executive director of the Sacred Heart Center, whose mission is to help Latino families thrive and flourish. With a focus on educational and human services programming, Sacred Heart Center serves approximately 10,000 people per year through ESL courses, citizenship preparation, the Latino Leadership Institute, GED curricula and more. González led a pivot to crisis response during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing thousands of meals, subsidizing housing costs and distributing more than $1 million to prevent evictions. “My day-to-day work is really about being available at every level of the organization,” González says. “Every day is intense and stressful and also really beautiful.”
González says VCU’s Wilder School played a key role in developing her leadership capacity. “Pursuing my master’s in public administration midcareer meant I was able to bring a lot of my personal and professional experience into the classroom and tailor my work accordingly. I was able to apply what I was learning immediately,” she says. VCU also helped her build a strong network and provided ongoing opportunities to collaborate on community-based research.
“Pursuing my master’s in public administration midcareer meant I was able to bring a lot of my personal and professional experience into the classroom and tailor my work accordingly. I was able to apply what I was learning immediately,” she says.
When González hangs up her executive director hat for the day, she puts on her dancing shoes. A lifelong dancer, she has taught traditional Mexican and Latin American dance since she moved to Richmond, using it as a creative outlet and a way to pass on beloved traditions and heritage from her childhood to a new generation.
Whether it’s teaching dance or leading Sacred Heart Center through the slow emergence from COVID, González’s goal is the same: Meet people where they are, empower their personal success and fortify the community, regardless of obstacles.
It can be tough sometimes, but she draws on the image of a palm tree: “A palm tree bends in the wind, and leaves might move around a lot. But it stays flexible and doesn’t break, even when a hurricane comes through.” When she or her staff sometimes feel as though their ultimate goal — true liberation for the communities they serve — seems out of reach, she reminds them of that image of fortitude and resilience. Then she forges ahead.
VCU Alumni will recognize this year’s 10 Under 10 honorees Oct. 22. The in-person event is invite-only, but the celebration can be viewed live on Zoom. RSVP today.