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Pat DeCarlo. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News
Pat DeCarlo. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News

Empowering Communities with Patricia DeCarlo

Pat DeCarlo honored by AL DÍA.

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From a stint in the Peace Corps to co-founding ASPIRA, Patricia DeCarlo is no stranger to transforming communities from the inside. But if you ask her how she got there, she’ll tell you it was a series of learning experiences. 

DeCarlo’s track record of standing against the status quo does not seem like an accident. There is a thread of grassroots empowerment and community organizing that cannot be missed.

It began after she spent two years building homes in Costa Rica during her Peace Corps service. Once she returned to her native Puerto Rico and realized it wasn’t a good fit, she moved to the states with a friend. There she began organizing protests for the Vietnam War and after a particular incident where her friends were unjustly arrested, DeCarlo decided to become the Puerto Rican lawyer she knew the community needed. It was then she enrolled in law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The major lessons I learned were learned before I finished law school,” DeCarlo said.

When DeCarlo first moved to the states from Puerto Rico, she was taken aback by the racial and economic disparity she saw. Particularly, it was the answers she received from classmates in response to a survey that asked the question, “If a black family moves next door to you, does your property value go down?” 

“I want people to know you have the resource within you to make change. If we sit at home and complain and ask someone to do it for us it will never get done. But we can make change.”

“I remember that people who I would never have considered racists answered yes to this question and after asking them why, I realized it was about perception and because they were raised within that [...] so it was through the ignorance that I learned.” 

After graduating law school, DeCarlo worked at Camden Regional Services where she represented groups working within the community. From there she joined Norris Square Civic Association, an organization which she has grew from one location with 3 employees in the formerly known, “Bad Lands,” to the an initiative that has Headstart, after school, and bilingual education initiatives run by the community. 

Her legacy of empowering others to own and transform the places where they live has never wavered and it is this passion she continues to pass on. 

“I want people to know you have the resource within you to make change. If we sit at home and complain and ask someone to do it for us it will never get done. But we can make change.”

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