The Unintimidated Perfectionist
On an early spring day, Arleny stops into Barrio’s headquarters during a short break at her job at the Daniel Torres Centro Hispano. She stands behind two young women seated at computers, art coordinator Valois Joubert and outreach coordinator Amber Mancebo. Valois and Amber prepare communications and fliers for upcoming events as Arleny oversees their flier designs and suggests edits.
Like a captain commanding the rise and fall of sails of a vessel charting shifting waters, Arleny bounced from desk to desk, inspecting the minutia while constantly taking to account how each component plays into Barrio’s ultimate destination.
As chief operations officer and an unflinching supervisor, Arleny brings mission and clear intent to her work at Barrio. She embodies the most credible aspects of Barrio: following through on promises made, holding herself and the organization accountable, and never settling for merely “good enough.”
“I really like structure,” Arleny, 27, said while taking a moment away from work. “I love lists. I think charts are delicious. I think I get a chance to create structure here (at Barrio).”
Alone, but not for long
While in high school, Arleny’s mother moved to Reading while Arleny stayed in New York. She went to College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, where she graduated in 2013 with a bachelors in English education.
Unable to afford life in NYC, Arleny joined her mother in Reading. In 2014 she became the head teacher and later the assistant director of a daycare in the northwest section of the city. Arleny found herself in a new city with no friends nearby, no car and no fulfilling outlet. She became depressed and wanted to leave Reading behind her.
Arleny’s sister suggested Arleny get out and meet people through taking salsa classes with instructor Daniel Egusquiza. She attended her first Barrio Alegria Dance Co. salsa class in the spring of 2015 when it was housed in the TEA Factory, a creative community space in the city’s south side.
Daniel said his first impression of her was that she had an air of melancholy and he immediately felt a connection with her. Though he found her to be beautiful, Daniel said he felt the essence of something much deeper and profound in her, even after their first meeting.
“At that point in my life, beauty didn’t impress me anymore,” Daniel said. “What seduced me to Arleny over time was her intelligence.”
Daniel asked her to grab a drink after the class. Arleny declined. Daniel attempted again at Arleny’s second class. She declined again. Third time proved to be the charm and the pair went the bar just behind the TEA Factory.
“He is very stubborn, he wore me down,” Arleny said with a begrudging grin. “I was going through a tough time and we would go on walks and just talk.”
Arleny wasn’t interested in getting into a relationship but Daniel, especially how he treats and respects others, was attractive, she said.
The two had their first date, a picnic at Wyomissing Park, in October 2015.
The next month, Arleny performed a salsa choreography of Barrio Alegria Dance Co. in the group’s Nuestras Voces production at Reading Area Community College as part of the school’s annual multicultural event.
Arleny began working at the Centro Hispano Daniel Torres in September 2016 as the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors program coordinator. The program helps parents become the first teachers of their children.
In addition to her work at Centro Hispano and all of her volunteering at Barrio, Arleny became the the chief operations officer of Barrio in 2017. The position is critical to the success and the sustainability of the organization. Arleny is a powerhouse and she executes her duties thoroughly, regardless of her lack of monetary compensation. “We are not paid; we’re paying to be in Barrio.” said with a chuckle. “But I believe in supporting your partner and I believe in Barrio’s mission.”
In 2018, the organization became a nonprofit. In the same year, she and Daniel got married in the Reading Public Library, where he works as the outreach coordinator. Their reception was held in the unzoned south Reading warehouse that housed Barrio for two years.
She also gives support and guidance to staff. Staff members characterized her as a staunch defender of Barrio’s workers and volunteers while also being an uncompromising watchdog for quality and consistency.
Sometimes described as “serious,” “not playing around,” and “focused,” Arleny not only takes into account all of Barrio’s shortcomings; she directly confronts them and makes sure they are corrected.
“She makes sure we’re all on top of what we’re doing,” Valois said of Arleny. “She’s always working at the Hispanic Center but if we ever need her, she’ll be here for us.”
Tony Veloz, South of Penn liaison to Barrio, met Arleny in 2017 and said she is powerhouse of the organization.
“She’s making sure Barrio is doing the best it can to drive people,” Tony said. “Daniel is more the visionary, she’s the realizer.”
Tony and Valois characterized Arleny as a central figure that can pull the organization together. Daniel said while he “gave birth” to Barrio, Arleny is the person who feeds it, dresses it every morning and takes it to school when it needs to learn. Arleny is also warm and encouraging. She is not all adverse to giving praise, only when it is justly due.
Arleny is a string that ties ideas to actions, Barrio to its work. She tied the knot with not only Daniel, but with the city’s most daring community group. Every kite needs a string and Arleny grounds the group, keeping it from being taken by a gust and becoming another piece of debris in the wind.
Cereus aethiops, the cactus blooms at night
Arleny began a new career in May 2019 at Reading School District as a parent engagement facilitator, continuing her work as an advocate for parents and children in the city.
Arleny is an unwavering advocate for the voiceless, the disadvantaged and the underrepresented.
“I believe what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,” Arleny said. “I feel for people who have no power and what I love about Barrio right now is that we are finding our voice.”
Arleny at one time trembled and stumbled over her words while presenting for Barrio in front of a crowd of college students. Now she is outspoken, unafraid of crowds and in command of herself and an organization changing the city. For all of her strong-willed attributes, Arleny takes time every month not only to find but share her voice in her favorite way.
On a rainy evening, during one Barrio’s Karaoke nights, Arleny grabs the microphone, closes her eyes and lets her voice fill the organization’s N. Fifth Street offices with song. She sways as the music fills her ears and spirit. On another evening during one of Barrio’s Art Explorations events, she jokes with staff and visitors For moment she lets go of her myriad responsibilities and reveals the glowing radiance so often shielded behind the focused and resolute facade.
Less serious and more Cereus, her orderly thorns are overshadowed by the flower that blooms at night, witnessed by those who can catch her after the day is over, her intricate and layered petals unfolding for the moonlight.