Northwestern alum fosters community as city outreach coordinator

Since graduating from Northwestern, Adelita Hernandez (Weinberg '05) has worked for Evanston. She's lead efforts to reach out to the growing Latino population and improve town-gown relations.

Source: Adelita Hernandez

Since graduating from Northwestern, Adelita Hernandez (Weinberg '05) has worked for Evanston. She's lead efforts to reach out to the growing Latino population and improve town-gown relations.

Oliver Ortega, Reporter

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Working as Evanston’s citizen engagement coordinator, Adelita Hernandez (Weinberg ’05) has been pivotal in the city’s community-building efforts since taking her post just after graduating from Northwestern.

Hernandez spearheaded the first bilingual education forum for parents Saturday as part of continuing efforts to reach out to the city’s growing Latino population. She’s also worked to improve town-gown relations during her eight years on the job, leading the annual Paint Evanston Purple campaign and other collaborative initiatives.

“Northwestern is a great resource for Evanston, and Evanston is a great resource for Northwestern,” she said. “We’re trying to take a multi-pronged approach to creating a sense of cooperation in the community.”

Hernandez’s family and her experience at NU led her to pursue a career in civic engagement, she said. Her parents, working-class immigrants from Mexico, pushed her and her brothers to pursue an education despite their humble background.

She took their words to heart, graduating as valedictorian from her predominantly white high school in Hoffman Estates, Ill., to become the first in her family to go to college. Her younger brother, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now works on Wall Street.

“What does a typical immigrant family look like and how many generations does it take to make going to college an expectation?” she said. “I realize that my family is not the norm, but I’d like for people not to be surprised when someone like me can be top of the class.”

As a student at NU, Hernandez participated in and then led the Summer Academic Workshop, a program traditionally geared toward incoming minority freshmen, in addition to working a variety of jobs on campus.

She first forayed into civic engagement work as an administrative intern at an Evanston-based foundation that awarded grants to community groups. After working for a few months at a non-profit following graduation, Hernandez began working for the city, first as an outreach coordinator in the health department before moving to her current position in the city manager‘s office.

Hernandez constantly uses her NU ties for her work, collaborating with Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs,  the Athletic Department and the University’s Office of Community Relations. She also helped organize an upcoming Cinco de Mayo event at the Evanston Public Library featuring the NU student band Mariachi Northwestern.

Hernandez has been pivotal in expanding the city’s online presence, creating its social media accounts four years ago at a time when most municipalities didn’t have them, she said. She revamped the city’s community service website, Volunteer Evanston, as city officials try to reach a 150,000-hour goal in honor of Evanston’s 150th anniversary. She also recently created the Spanish section of the city’s website and a Facebook page called “Evanston en Espanol.”  

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said Hernandez has been an indispensable part of her team.

“She’s done a fabulous job of reaching out to Latinos and everyone else to get them to volunteer,” she said. “She’s been my interpreter at several meetings and we’ve worked together on many things.”

Although initially she planned on pursing a master’s in public health or social work, Hernandez said she wants to continue to build on current initiatives and create new ones. One of her goals is to make Paint Evanston Purple, now in its fourth year, a tradition.

“I want students to think this has been going on forever,” she said. “It’s all about fostering community.”

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