April 20, 2024 • In the News

Lifelong Chelsea resident, Yaritza Morales Gonzalez, has been an advocate for environmental and social justice since she was 14-years-old, working as a youth organizer for Chelsea Green Space, a sub-committee of Chelsea Human Services, which is now La Colaborativa. Although her roles have changed throughout the years, she has maintained relationships with members of the community, and is passionate about improving the quality of life in her home city.

“The work that I do aligns with my values,” said Gonzalez, Director of Operations, GreenRoots. “I am not someone who comes from privilege. I was born and raised in the church. One of the things I was taught was we have to do right and correct wrongs; and at the same time, defend the oppressed. That’s exactly what we do on a daily basis. You can’t help but want to be hands-on to make change.”

Gonzalez recalls two public health initiatives regarding air quality that made an impression on her as a teenager, since her family has a history of respiratory diseases. Gonzalez remembers working with the Chelsea Public Schools Department to establish signage that would enforce no idling in school zones. It was her first experience with press releases, conferences, and public presentations.

Another project that Gonzalez noted was when hundreds of students were engaged in protesting and delivering posters and letters to the owners of a wind energy farm that planned to develop a dirty diesel power plant across from one of Chelsea’s largest elementary schools, where her siblings attended.

“When I finally understood the work that we were doing, and the impact in the community that I lived in, that’s when my passion and interest for environmental and social justice came about,” realized Gonzalez, 35.

Although Gonzalez sees vibrance and potential in the community, she feels that residents are still vulnerable, and revealed that the work can be emotionally strenuous.

“What keeps me here is the people we serve,” shared Gonzalez, who is bilingual in English and Spanish. “I can see myself in many of the people I cross paths with. The Spanish community correlates environmental justice with the justice system. In many countries, ‘justice’ is referred to the court. It doesn’t have a positive connotation. To explain environmental justice, we have to break it down. It reminds me of when I was a youth and I couldn’t understand it or explain it until I was out there doing the work.”

Today, Gonzalez oversees GreenRoots’ payroll, human resources, and finances, coordinating directly with Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni in preparing and monitoring budgets and accounting procedures.

GreenRoots is presently focusing on the impact of microgrids during power outages. The interconnected electrical grid distributes vital resources that would ensure power in major buildings such as City Hall, the Emergency Communications Center, and Police and Fire Departments.

As a mother of three daughters, Gonzalez is also grateful that GreenRoots is mindful of the importance of family. Her 18-month-old toddler, Emma, shares her office space each day, and is Gonzalez’s favorite colleague.  The majority of GreenRoots employees are female, and their children often participate in activities and events.

“As women we’ve fought hard to be able to be in the working field, vote, and make astronomical changes,” said Gonzalez. “Internally, our policies are ethical so everyone can feel like they have flexibility to not have to pick between work and family. This is our way of life. It’s about what our family means. What we do in Chelsea is family. This is making an impact.”

Gonzalez hopes that GreenRoots can be an inspiration for young women to never limit themselves.

“I hope they see that females do have a voice, and that they can feel empowered in fields like environmental and social justice, and that they can make long-lasting change,” stressed Gonzalez, whose female influences include her mother, Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director of GreenRoots, and Gladys Vega, Executive Director of La Colaborativa. “I have worked under powerful women. They have shown me what it is to be strong and resilient.”

Family is Gonzalez’s priority; and when she is not working, she and her family enjoy adventuring locally and abroad. She also loves to sing loudly and dance unabashedly.