What does it take to succeed? For Cecilia Ulibarri, determination, focus, and perseverance have helped her overcome many challenges. Achieving her goals was never a matter of if, but when.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Cecilia moved to Nashua as a child with her mother and stepfather. During her senior year of high school, her first son was born. Although she says it was a bit of a struggle, Cecilia achieved her goal of graduating on time with her class in 1999. “I was never going to quit school, and I wanted to go to college.”
Cecilia found herself in a controlling relationship, however, where college wasn’t an option. She thought to herself, “This is not a healthy relationship for me. I need to get out.” Cecilia eventually was able to leave, but faced the challenge of raising her two young boys alone. “I needed to figure out how to make it on my own as a single parent. This was all new to me,” she recalls. She discovered the Front Door Agency (formerly Nashua Pastoral Care Center), entered its transitional housing program, and tackled this next trial head-on.
United Way of Greater Nashua supports the program, which provides residents a safe place to live as they travel the path to self-sufficiency.
Cecilia quickly advanced from the program’s group-home introductory phase to her own apartment. She also was able to re-focus on her goal of attending college. Cecilia wasn’t the type to just go to class and go home. She embraced college fully, got involved in several school organizations, and even started her own by forming a Gay-Straight Alliance to address bullying issues on campus.
Cecilia got a taste of leadership and liked it. “I was able to see what I was capable of on my own, without somebody telling me what I could or could not do,” she recalls. “I was very empowered during that time.” Cecilia graduated from the transitional housing program and began what she calls her “art journey.”
One of the ways Cecilia defines herself is as an artist, so she branched out by meeting and networking with people in the local art community. She thought, “I’ve worked so hard and overcome so many adversities, that I need to find something to fuel my passions.” In 2012, Cecilia co-founded an all-volunteer nonprofit, Positive Street Art.
“Positive Street Art is where we can bring out-of-the-box, non-traditional art to Nashua, and bring the urban arts culture to the city,” explains a beaming Cecilia. “We can empower kids to produce positive expression in a way that will better the community.”
Through her work with Positive Street Art, Cecilia met United Way of Greater Nashua President Paul Hebert, who recognized her leadership abilities and asked her to become a board member. “I was really excited to represent a different part of the community that wasn’t already reflected on the board,” Cecilia recalls. “I felt like my leadership had grown to another level. I was being recognized as a key leader in the community… I was honored. Becoming a board member reinforced that what I was doing in the community was valid.”
Cecilia now works as Event and Member Experience Coordinator for the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce where she continues to be an influence and an inspiration to her children and the community. “It really was this chain reaction. Being in the community, meeting all of these people, them seeing what kind of value I bring, and them taking me under their wing. I’m very proud to be a part of this city.”
Cecilia’s biggest goal now is to become a homeowner. Overall though, she says, “My mission is to inspire people. Whether it’s from my story or what I do, I want others to say that I’ve been an inspiration to them, and in turn be inspired by others. It’s so important to be involved in your community. It’s where you live. If you want to see change in your community, you need to be that person, and I believe that anybody is capable of that.”
Cecilia personifies that belief every day.