Since City Year came to Miami in 2008, corps members have reached over 225,000 students, serving more than one million hours in Miami’s highest-need schools. Much of their focus has been on literacy programs and support for English language learners, who represent 21% of the
public school population in Miami. Ana Mari Ortega, a City Year champion and lifelong Miami resident, is passionate about this work. “Spanish speakers can get by easily in Miami, without ever learning English; all of life’s necessities – the grocery store, restaurants, a doctor’s visit – can be conducted in Spanish. But, not knowing English can be really limiting in terms of jobs and
Education has always been a priority for Ana Mari and her family. Her parents were born in Cuba, but left the island as infants for Puerto Rico during the Cuban Revolution. Both families eventually immigrated to Miami, whose unprecedented growth at the time led to its being nicknamed the “Magic City.” There, the Ortega family established Sazón Goya, a Goya subsidiary that produces popular Latino-flavored seasonings. Ana Mari is continuing the family’s entrepreneurial tradition; after college, she became a fashion designer and established Ana Mari Ortega, her own handbag and jewelry line, based in Miami.
Ana Mari gives to City Year Miami and other organizations involved with community building and children, including Habitat for Humanity, through her family’s foundation – the Ortega Family Foundation – which also gives generous scholarships to Miami-area high school students. In addition to serving on the City Year Miami Board, Ana Mari is Vice Chair of the Red Jacket Society, City Year's national major gifts program. Her most recent gift is a $300,000 challenge grant to City Year Miami, given over three years, to encourage new members. Ana Mari’s conversations with potential supporters now hold even more sway: when she asks for a gift, she also guarantees she’ll match it.
It is City Year’s impact on Miami’s next generation that keeps Ana Mari motivated. “When I look at the kids corps members work with, I think, ‘what if they’re able to graduate high school, go to the right school, and get a job?’” she says. “I think about how different their lives would be if they don’t graduate. And that to me is so exciting – that you can transform someone’s life for the better.”