When Thais Carrero boarded a plane in 2016 to leave her home in order to pursue her career aspirations in the United States, she was weighed down not only by the physical burden of her belongings but by the emotional burden of her guilt.
At the time, Carrero, who was born and raised in Sabana Grande, a small town in southwestern Puerto Rico, couldn’t shake the feeling that she was abandoning the people and home she loved and for which had spent years advocating.
Three years later, the 27-year-old has found a home in York city and has become deeply involved in the community. On April 6, she received the Junior League of York’s Catalyst award that is given to young people who have made a positive impact on their community.
Carrero’s community work began during her undergraduate career at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon (University of the Sacred Heart) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she majored in journalism and minored in justice systems.
During that time, she volunteered with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce assisting young entrepreneurs, as well as volunteering for Basura Cero Puerto Rico, an environmental organization that works with businesses with the goal of eliminating waste.
In 2015, she traveled to the United States for an internship with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2016, when Carrero was doing another Washington D.C. internship, this time at UnidosUS, a nonprofit Latino advocacy organization, she began seriously contemplating making a permanent move to the States.
Carrero said that job opportunities were more plentiful in the U.S., and she had also begun a long-distance relationship with a man from York.
Eventually, she made peace with her decision to leave Puerto Rico.
“There’s only so much you can do there. I can still help the island by being here,” she said.
However, Carrero sought a career in public relations, a very competitive field in D.C. Pennsylvania intrigued her because she had family in several areas of the state, and she also decided it was time to move closer to her boyfriend.
In November 2016, she made the move to York, and after a brief stint in retail, she was hired as a media specialist for the Democratic Caucus at the state House of Representatives.
Still, she was yearning to learn more about her new city and find ways to play a part in its community.
“I was still feeling selfish,” she said.
Carrero began networking online and in-person and soon learned that there was a need to serve Latino residents by providing information and access to resources including healthcare and education.
“I realized that there were people here who needed help, too,” she said.
To address those issues, Carrero helped found Latinos Unidos of York in January 2018 . She was also involved in starting York city’s First Friday Latino event, a spinoff of Downtown Inc’s popular First Fridays that showcase the city’s restaurant and entertainment scene.
She currently serves on the organization’s board of directors.
2018 also brought Carrero together with Sal Galdamez, founder and CEO of York XL, a nonprofit organization that seeks to break down barriers related to race, gender and sexual orientation in York so residents can join together to improve the community.
The two instantly bonded over their shared vision for the city.
“In these two years she’s shown her genuine wish to really help out everyone and get involved,” Galdamez said.
Through her work with York XL, Carrero has taught an eight-week introductory Spanish course that is open to everyone in the community.
Carrero said that for people to understand each other, they must first learn to communicate with each other.
That’s why she is also involved in York XL’s immersion activities that allow people who are learning English or Spanish an opportunity to speak with each other in a “no judgement zone.”
“It’s a way to break down barriers between different cultures,” she said.
Carrero also hasn’t shied away from the more menial tasks of knocking on doors and handing out flyers to promote the organization’s efforts, according to Galdamez.
Galdamez said that while others may just speak about inclusion and diversity in their communities without acting, Carrero is different.
“She genuinely lives her life by that,” he said.
In addition to her work with the Latino community, Carrero is a member of the Emerging Leaders Society of the United Way of York County and the York Young Professionals. In January, she joined the board of directors of the Cultural Alliance of York County.
“It’s a great opportunity to make a change in the arts as well,” she said.
The past January also marked the beginning of a new employment opportunity for Carrero, as she now works for the state Department of Economic and Community Development as a deputy press secretary.
If Carrero had to give advice to a young woman who was in her situation three years ago, she would tell her that finding and relying on a support system is vital to acclimating to a new community.
For Carrero, that support system is her mother who still lives in Puerto Rico, but it has expanded to include the new friends she’s made in York.
“Getting involved is key to meeting goals and creating good relationships,” she said.
She also hopes that other young women are inspired by her actions.
“I want them to think, ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’ That’s what I’m aiming for,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory.