Marta Casas-Celaya was 4 years old, the youngest of six children, when her family immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the 1960s. With the income of her civil engineer father, the family was solidly middle class. But that didn’t mean the transition was easy.
"It was a leap from the known to the unknown," Marta recalls. "There was so much to get used to, even small things like food. My parents missed their Cuban coffee and I missed my Cuban toast with breakfast. A lot of people helped us – warm people who were so giving of their time."
Among them, Marta particularly remembers the real estate agent who rented the family their first house, located in Harrisburg, Pa. As a big family, they needed a lot of furniture, and the agent and his friends helped acquire it all and move it in. Many of the people who helped Marta’s family also volunteered at their churches or in other community groups. As she grew up, she realized their generosity epitomized the way neighbors helped neighbors in her adopted country.
"Much later when I started looking at careers and asked myself what I would enjoy doing, I kept coming back to those memories," she says. Her first job after graduating from Florida International University was as public relations director for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Miami.
Fast forward to 2016, and Marta has gone on to enjoy a varied career working in the nonprofit, government, consulting and corporate sectors, capped by her current position for the past 10 years as director of government and community affairs for Comcast in South Florida. She has also taken on volunteer leadership roles at a range of local nonprofit organizations, including United Way, Urban League, and the Literacy Coalition. Last fall, Marta was showcased as an outstanding Latina woman by Palm Beach County’s local NBC affiliate.
One thing Marta’s extensive experience has taught her is that well-thought-out, well-run, and adequately resourced service endeavors are the most effective.
"With Comcast, community investment is not just a matter of checking the box," she said. "Unlike some other companies, Comcast can and does provide adequate resources to actually make an impact. Because of that active, engaged involvement, I have seen firsthand how our programs change lives."
Typical is a project managed by the Urban League – a longtime Comcast partner – that created seven Digital Learning Zones throughout Palm Beach County. Funded by Comcast in communities with strong Internet Essentials programs, the Digital Learning Zones provide computer literacy training for families and individuals in low-income areas.
In its first year, the Palm Beach County Digital Learning Zones trained more than 1,000 participants including 190 low-income seniors. Most of the sites continue to operate through the Urban League’s annual Comcast Foundation grant or under the auspices of area cities.
Because of Marta’s positive reputation in the community, a group of Hispanic educators approached her and Comcast for help expanding the work of a small advocacy organization for young people, the Hispanic Education Coalition.
The coalition serves a diverse population – everyone from landscapers born in Central America who speak the languages of the indigenous peoples, to affluent Venezuelans seeking a more stable political and economic environment. What they have in common is that leap from the known to the unknown – the same one Marta’s family made years ago.
In part, it’s the overall diversity of the South Florida population that makes it a desirable place to live and work, Marta says.
"I appreciate the different perspectives, the different cultures, and the different experiences," she said. "I consider myself a communicator, trained and tried. This is a wonderful place for me to exercise my skills."