DeKALB – Gladys Concio Sanchez is a big believer in working together, especially for social good.
Born in Pateros in the Philippines, Sanchez was adopted at birth and came to the U.S. when she was 7. She grew up in Oak Park and moved to DeKalb to attend college. She earned her associate’s degree from Kishwaukee College and is a junior at Northern Illinois University, studying special education.
At Kishwaukee, Sanchez was president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, served as the student representative to the board of trustees and was selected to attend the Washington Legislative summit. At NIU, she is an active member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, NIU Dream Action, the NIU College Parents Group, and is vice president of We Care. In the last month alone, she has participated in Model Illinois Government, an intercollegiate government simulation for college students in Springfield, and Finding Our Way Home in Boston. This summer, she is scheduled to participate in NIU President Doug Baker’s task force for undocumented students.
“One of the things we made happen is that undocumented students (didn’t) have a picture on their ID,” Sanchez, 25, said. “It would just be blank. But now they have it.”
Last year, Sanchez was one of 10 students in the nation to receive a prestigious Phi Theta Kappa Lou Oberndorf Scholarship. She traveled to San Jose, Calif., to talk to alumni and read one of her poems, which was published in the society’s newsletter.
Besides being a published poet at the age of 11, Sanchez has exhibited and sold her art work at Herbal Embers in DeKalb, mastered the art of fingernail painting and even models occasionally.
Sanchez also has a Congressional Certificate of Recognition for her participation in An Artistic Discovery, the Congressional art competition for high school students.
If that wasn’t enough, Sanchez has three part-time jobs, including director of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb. As a single mother of a 5-year-old son, one of Sanchez’s goals is to involve children with social justice issues.
Between trips, jobs and classes, Sanchez talked about some of these projects with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
MidWeek: How do you manage so many activities?
Gladys Sanchez: I never sleep. (Laughs). I do so much, my brain is all over. But I just join things I like.
MW: One of your activities is We Care. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know exactly what it is.
GS: We Care NIU is an organization that informs students about safe sex choices and gives more information about We Care Pregnancy (Clinic), which is a pregnancy clinic that gives free pregnancy tests and informs people about STIs AND STDs.
MW: How long have you been writing poetry?
GS: Ever since I was 7. It’s like a positive distraction to all the negative things in my life. I found out I was adopted in fourth grade and I was grieving for my adopted mother who passed away. I was also extremely sad because I do not know who my biological parents are.
I do art and poetry both. I have two pieces of poetry in two different books. It is called the “Anthology of Poems.” Painting is my de-stressor. I do abstract and three-dimensional. It usually has some sort of social justice to it, but I also like funny art. For three years, I even did fingernail painting. I was self-taught, but that takes a lot of time.
MW: You said there are times you question what your gifts are. Right now, what do you think they are?
GS: Three things: I have a phenomenal work ethic, I offer passion and energy to everything I am involved in, and I am good at giving and volunteering.
MW: So how long have you been a member of the Unitarian Universalist church?
GS: Ever since I came here (DeKalb), I have gone to just about every church. I was raised Catholic. I am really into my faith and spiritualism. They didn’t fit me, but this one does. I am more comfortable here.
MW: Why’s that?
GS: I like the UUFD church because of our mission. This church welcomes all. The UUFD church exemplifies self strength, trusting in your own wisdom and being able to offer love for all. ...It’s not just talk. We are really doing a lot for the community, like the Welcome Cafe, which is like Feed’em Soup. We give out free breakfasts once a month. We are also involved with the DeKalb County Community Gardens and Hope Haven.
I like the freedom here. We’re not in shackles. I’m astonished by what some people believe.
MW: What are your duties as director of religious education?
GS: I pick the curriculum for the United Rainbow Kids (up to first grade) and Bridge Builders (older than first grade) for Sunday school. I do the research and give them (the volunteers) a packet. They can tweak it if they like. I also teach the Sunday school myself and I supervise. I do all of the organizational aspect of it. Last month we focused on Black History Month and Harriet Tubman and slavery, role playing. We gave them a task. First you were a slave and then you were free.
My mission thing is for the children to understand self-awareness and self-strength. That is very important. Also, learning to love and work together. I think this will help them to survive, to be able to work with anybody, anytime, anywhere.
MW: You look sort of young to be in charge.
GS: I’m 25. My long hair makes me look younger.
I think one of the reasons they hired me is that I am a questioning person and a responsible person. Being strong-minded and having the ability to question things are both great characteristics. It is okay to question. Questions do not always equal to doubt. It can simply be considered as the act of wondering. I have always questioned things. That can be a strength or a weakness.
(Being adopted) that’s why I have the questions that I do. I don’t have a mother I can call for help. When something happens I have to figure it out on my own.
MW: Why are you studying special ed?
GS: I give credit to one little boy. He is mildly autistic. I basically took care of him one entire summer. I just feel they are so special. I have so much patience for them with special needs.
MW: So what are your personal goals?
GS: Personally, one of the things that I want to remain doing is to love like a child. How they don’t see color, they just like you because they like you. It’s a simple love. I always want to keep an open mind and be self-evolving, always accepting change and not hinder opportunities when they come along.