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Alumni Excellence Awards: Rising Terp Award Winner Oneyda Hernandez '23

Alumni Excellence Awards: Rising Terp Award Winner Oneyda Hernandez '23

Oneyda Hernandez '23

By Dilshad D. Ali

Oneyda Hernandez’s mother taught her many things, but one in particular has become the mantra of the work she does to support people in need: The community takes care of the community. El pueblo cuida al pueblo.

Hernandez founded the Audelia Community Response Team (ACRT) to address food insecurity in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. What began as an effort by Hernandez and three of her siblings, who were working in a physical therapy clinic at the time, to help a patient impacted by COVID-19 has grown to a robust Latinx-centered organization serving more than 1,400 families annually.

“A few of my siblings and my cousins thought we’d put our money together and help [the patient] with their rent and get them some clothes and essential goods,” Hernandez says. “When we delivered it, their neighbors thought we were [part of] an organization and told us about their needs. It just grew from there.”

ACRT is named after Hernandez’s mother, Audelia Berrios de Hernandez, who passed away from a heart attack in 2018 just as her daughter had just started her last semester at the University of Maryland to complete her sociology degree. Hernandez put her education on hold to travel to El Salvador to help bury her mother.

Upon returning, she discovered she had an outstanding tuition balance and appealed to the university for years to get her fees absolved. “It was because of Sara Gallagher (associate director of the Do Good Institute at UMD’s School of Public Policy) appealing on my behalf that the fees were finally dropped.” she says.

In 2023 Hernandez returned to UMD to finish her degree, all the while working alongside family, friends and other volunteers to extend ACRT’s work in honor of her mother, who had modeled the importance of giving back.

Within the first year, ACRT grew to more than 60 volunteers helping to provide food to families in need in Langley Park and neighboring communities.

ACRT also partnered with state Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery County) to open a free-of-cost, volunteer-run COVID-19 clinic in an area with underserved families. By providing translations and calling families, they were able to get about 6,000 community members vaccinated that first year, including 960 at its inaugural clinic. ACRT also partnered with AllCare urgent care and Meduni, a health care nonprofit organization, to open a volunteer-run COVID testing site.

Now, ACRT works in three primary areas: food insecurity, youth programs and English language skills. It continues to distribute essential foods used by community members, like masa for tortillas, collard greens and rainbow chard, at designated locations.

It has also worked with Impact Silver Spring and Clifton Park Baptist Church on the Food Grown Home program and English Conversion Circles. Food Grown Home is an urban farming initiative where ACRT provides free hydroponic gardening equipment, lessons and maintenance supplies to help families grow their own fruits and vegetables on their kitchen counters. Twenty-five families currently take part; each saves upward of $4,000 annually in grocery bills. With English Conversion Circles, ACRT provides Zoom classes to help community members practice their English with volunteers. “Not only do they practice their English skills, they get to know each other and build bridges of support,” Hernandez says.

And ACRT helps with back-to-school backpack and school supply drives and hosts events with Fresh Fades in White Oak to provide free haircuts to youths.

She counts so many of the people in her life for helping her on this path: her sociology professors (especially her advisor, Amy McLaughlin, who had her students volunteer with ACRT); her classmates; her sorority sisters at Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada; her family.

The community helps the community.


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