NEWBURYPORT — Magalie Yolanda Torres-Rowe, a Lynn community leader who works to empower Latina women who speak limited, or no English, was awarded the third annual Peter J. Gomes Service Award by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) on Sunday.
Torres-Rowe, a native of Peru and Lynn resident, is the executive director and founder of Latina Center MARIA and was nominated for the award by Maria Carrasco, a former member of the Lynn School Committee.
In her nomination, Carrasco said Torres-Rowe, through her work with the center, empowers Latina women lacking a grasp of the English language through education and by offering the tools they need “as they guide their children to become the honest, hardworking citizens that society needs.”
Monthly meetings for Latina Center MARIA are held at LynnArts, where professional, emotional and spiritual support is offered to the women.
“What Magalie does for some of the most disadvantaged members of our community, those are just struggling to make ends meet and find a home here, under really adverse circumstances is inspiring,” Moulton said.
“She is an example of someone who serves, even though she has all the excuses in the world for not having to serve. She does so much for so many in difficult circumstances and that’s what inspired us to choose her as the winner.”
Torres-Rowe, who founded the Latina Center MARIA three years ago, said she was happy to receive the award because it wasn’t about her.
“It’s about the Latinas that have no English or limited English, so I try to be the voice of the voiceless,” Torres-Rowe said. “It’s about them, for them, because we can look for more opportunities to serve better.”
Torres-Rowe said the plan is to have a space through the Center where Latina mothers can be taught English, but also be provided daycare in the same place. She said learning English is key for their economic and educational wellbeing, but also for their self-esteem.
“People with a strong self-esteem, they can reach any goal, but the self-esteem for Latinas comes when they can speak English, where they don’t feel like they are second-class citizens,” Torres-Rowe said.
She also teaches conversational Spanish and Conversational Basic English as a Second Language (ESL) at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute.
The Peter J. Gomes Service Award is given to an individual in the Sixth Congressional District who best epitomizes the qualities of integrity, compassion and commitment to community that were the foundation of the late Rev. Professor Gomes’ teachings.
Moulton, who cites Gomes as his mentor and inspiration for serving, presented Torres-Rowe with the award during a ceremony at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport.
Torres-Rowe, a mother of four children, is an associate sister of St. Joseph, a community of women, founded by a Jesuit priest in France in the 1960s. She has been working within the Catholic Church for more than 20 years in parishes and dioceses of Peru, Mexico and United States.
In her nomination, Carrasco said Torres-Rowe’s ministries today involve working to support, educate and empower her students, and their families — members of immigrant communities as they strive to learn English, adapt to a new culture, and embrace the challenges of life in the U.S.
Torres-Rowe was a professor at the Iberoamericana University in Torreon, Mexico, for a decade and has also taught at Salem High School. During her tenure in Salem, the Spanish National Honors Society was founded at the high school, which was the first of its kind.
She’s been in education for 35 years and said she always strives to instill in her kids the value of giving back to the community.
Following the award ceremony, Moulton, Torres-Rowe and volunteers participated in a day of service at sites throughout the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.
Moulton created the award to honor Rev. Gomes, a Christian minister who served for almost 40 years at Memorial Church of Harvard University, a space built to honor the Harvard public servants who died in World War I.
Moulton cites Rev. Gomes as his inspiration for serving — he joined the U.S. Marine Corp in the spring of 2001, shortly after graduating college and months before the terrorist attacks on September 11. He served four tours of duty in Iraq.
The congressman has said the award is given out purposefully on or around 9/11, which has served a dual purpose since Congress declared it a National Day of Service in 2009. He has said it’s meant to coincide with a day in American history that has gratefully been reborn from a day of tragedy to a day of service.
The other finalists for the service award were Timothy Doane, a Marblehead firefighter; Karen Finocchio Lubek, of Marblehead, volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association; Kristine Babcock, of Beverly, veterans service coordinator at North Shore Community College; and Bedford Town Manager Richard Reed.
Last year, Jason McCuish, a teacher at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, received the service award.