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Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez.
Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez was honored earlier this year as an AL DÍA Woman of Merit. She's now getting childcare professionals marching in Philly's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. Photo: AL DÍA Archives

This year’s Puerto Rican parade will showcase Philly’s childcare professionals, for the first time

Damaris Alvarado-Rodríguez is a leading professional in the childcare arena and is the owner of two south Philadelphia-based centers.

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Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican day parade is a cultural stamp for Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, and this year’s march will highlight the work of the city’s childcare professionals alongside Latinos Educando Juntos (LEJ), helmed by philanthropist and entrepreneur Damaris Alvarado-Rodríguez.

LEJ is Alvarado-Rodríguez’s fresh-off-the-stove nonprofit that seeks to platform Latinx business owners, entrepreneurs, and educators that recently acquired a 501©3 status. For her, LEJ goes beyond the consultancy and calls it a “home away from home” for Latino individuals looking to reinforce their business acumen. 

But it wasn’t always an established organization. In fact, LEJ began as a canvassing effort to recruit clients with the goal of offering consulting services to professionals looking to grow their business, namely childcare workers.

It started in the throes of the pandemic when Alvarado-Rodríguez, owner of the Children’s Playhouse, identified a resource gap in the childcare space. She knew of all sorts of available resources and couldn’t grasp why so much information wasn’t reaching her community of fellow Latino business owners. 

“It became a little bit overwhelming. It was a one-man force with the support of two girls (...) What I started doing was funding myself. I can’t find funding, so I’m going to fund it. I’m going to create this platform where providers are able to come to, and I’ll invest in my community. This is the way I want to invest in my community,” Alvarado-Rodríguez said.

For the next few months, Alvarado-Rodríguez listened to providers because her platform served as a safe space to express frustrations and a general feeling of discontent. She listened intently and learned what the gaps were so that she could, in turn, address them. 

“We put our active listening skills on. We wanted to make sure that we were hearing everything that’s going on. Then we looked for data to support the initiative. There is none,” Alvarado-Rodríguez recalled. 

But a lack of information didn’t deter the self-made business owner from creating a database of her own, parting from the same months-long sessions she held with other childcare providers, and thus LEJ’s mission was born. 

Today, Alvarado-Rodríguez’s five-person Zoom convening now services over 200 providers across the Commonwealth, and some of the efforts include translation work, making public information more accessible. LEJ also has a developing advocacy arm, which focuses on ensuring that providers put their best foot forward when seeking assistance or financial support. 

“Apart from childcare being the business, what we do passionately, I’m going to be so proud to see business owners that do so much for our communities. Working juntos (...) and understanding that to make changes happen, we need to elevate our voices together,” noted Alvarado-Rodríguez, emphasizing a sense of “thrill” she feels.

In many ways, the childcare provider’s presence in the Puerto Rican Day parade is the fruit of LEJ’s labor, and she hopes it will send a message to starting Latino entrepreneurs, as well as other providers in the Commonwealth.

“We are the workforce behind the workforce. Seeing them walk together that day is just another reminder (...) that we are the workforce behind the workforce and the Latinx community should be respected as well as they deserve,” she said. 

As far as preparations for the parade are concerned, Alvarado-Rodríguez is focused on rallying her community to show up and is tracking every minute detail, from the color of the clothing to the banners, to available parking in the area. 

“We’re not just walking just to walk. We’re walking because this is what needs to happen, we need to be out there as a unified group of providers and business owners. And I think to really prove that we are here,” she continued.

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