In observance of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), St. Jude spotlights the contribution of Hispanic employees and graduate students who bring their talent, passion and expertise to further the lifesaving mission of St. Jude.
"We all have something to contribute, and we don’t judge anybody."
Mexico holds a special place in Alberto Pappo’s heart. He grew up there, making some of his closest friends and enjoying the best food he’s ever had. It’s also where he earned his medical degree, an important milestone on his path to becoming an oncologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Pappo, who serves as director of the Solid Tumor Division at St. Jude, moved to the United States in 1985 and came to Memphis in 1991. He worked at St. Jude for 10 years before moving to Canada and then Houston, Texas. He returned to Memphis in 2010 and is celebrating 21 years at St. Jude.
Pappo appreciates how all patients, families and employees are respected at St. Jude.
“Everybody can blend in and do the right thing for our patients and for the mission, but at the same time, we can maintain our individuality. We have patients from all over the world, and we try to accommodate their needs and beliefs as best as we can. We also have a great group of translators, and they’re very helpful,” said Pappo, who himself is fluent in Spanish.
At St. Jude, Pappo helped launch the Childhood Solid Tumor Network, the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of scientific resources for studying pediatric solid tumors and their biology. He also created a pediatric melanoma referral clinic where experts evaluate patients from across the country twice a year and connect them to referring physicians working to treat this rare pediatric disease.
Celebrating the achievements and contributions of the Hispanic community is important to Pappo, and he is proud that St. Jude places a priority on such recognition as well.
“There’s a long history of diversity here. So many discoveries at St. Jude have been by people who are not originally from the United States,” he said. “We all have something to contribute, and we don’t judge anybody. That was one of Danny Thomas’ dreams. We celebrate all kinds of heritages, customs, nationalities and beliefs. I think that’s why this place is so special.”
Knowing that her “grain of salt makes a difference in the grand scheme of things."
The first time Amanda heard of St. Jude was through a commercial featuring Jennifer Aniston. At that moment, she couldn’t imagine that her now-manager, Beatriz Barragan, would reach out to her via LinkedIn to discuss an available position. They spoke on the phone and a month later she was a part of ALSAC.
Amanda started out as a Bilingual Development Specialist and received a promotion in 2021. She loves building relationships as well as connecting outside donors and partners to the mission of St. Jude, knowing that her “grain of salt makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.”
Being both Hispanic and bilingual has allowed Amanda to bring different ideas and perspectives to her work. She’s had the opportunity to help different teams in and outside of Southern California by traveling to their events, serving as a Spanish-speaking representative and creating Spanish-language materials for them to use. Amanda recently joined the Hispanic Culture Committee. Her favorite initiative is leading the radiothon for Univision Los Angeles, one of the largest in the nation, which helps bring hundreds of new Angeles de Esperanza to our mission every year.
Amanda’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. Because of this, her parents felt it was very important for their children to hold onto their culture and continue to speak Spanish. Because of this, she didn’t really celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. “Being Hispanic was just who we were,” Amanda says, “and we celebrated year-round, in true Mexican fashion.” Now it's important to Amanda to celebrate this month because it gives her the opportunity to educate others about her own country's rich history, culture and contributions to this nation and world.
Amanda was a DACA program recipient until earlier this year. After 31 years of living in the U.S., she finally qualified to apply for permanent residency. Growing up as an undocumented and Hispanic person and being the first person in her family to graduate from college are experiences that motivate Amanda to excel in her work at ALSAC. Those experiences helped her become resilient, resourceful and able to “navigate living in the gray.”
“It has truly been rewarding to create this beautiful bond with all the patients and families I have had the pleasure to care for."
Early in her time as a nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Jasmin Elizarraras, RN, saw that she could play a unique role in patient care.
As the only Spanish-speaking nurse in her unit when she started working at St. Jude in 2015, she was sought out by peers to interpret and communicate with Spanish-speaking families and served as a valuable resource for patients from various backgrounds. Seeing patient’s reactions when they learned that she spoke Spanish inspired her to become a certified Spanish interpreter, further helping patients and families during their stays at St. Jude.
“Whenever a Spanish speaking patient learned that I spoke Spanish, it was this amazing revelation to them. They felt like they could connect with me and even if at times we had different backgrounds we bonded on the differences within our Hispanic heritage,” Elizarraras said. “It has truly been rewarding to create this beautiful bond with all the patients and families I have had the pleasure to care for.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Elizarraras originally moved to Tennessee during her childhood when her sister was a patient at St. Jude. During the frequent visits to the hospital, she took a great interest in the caregivers and it became her passion. Now a nurse for seven years, she has taken the opportunity to share her heritage with her coworkers and patients alike.
With those two interests of patient care and heritage meeting at an intersection at St. Jude, Elizarraras has expanded her role to serve as the chair for the Nursing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, bringing a varied perspective to her unit and the entire St. Jude campus.
“I have had the pleasure to collaborate alongside other minority groups, and together we are trying to expand and share all our stories that make us unique with the whole institution,” she said. “I like the diverse patient population that we care for. I really feel like I am making a difference in the world by caring for all these patients and their families.”
Edgar Reyes Pedroza
“ALSAC has given me the opportunity of being the whole me at work."
Growing up, Edgar believed there were multiple St. Jude hospitals around the United States. This is because, every year, he would accompany his grandma to drop off her donation for St. Jude at the Kmart in El Paso. After all, St. Jude Thaddeus was her patron saint.
Edgar joined the ALSAC team back in 2018, first as a contractor under the Event Support Team in ITS and later in his current position. He continues to work with both his current and former teams, getting to flex his skills onsite at the events he supports. He also has gone beyond his role, becoming a co-chair for the LGBTQ+ & Allies advocacy and leading innovative initiatives across the organization.
“Being born and raised in a Mexican household, I was taught that my work shows who I am. Being Mexican and Hispanic is part of my DNA, and of what I do.” Edgar is aware that he doesn’t just represent himself, but rather the whole community in his work. This is why he goes beyond “just doing his job” and ensures that all those around him feel welcomed into his “familia.”
That said, Edgar is also thankful that ALSAC gives him the space to embrace all his identities: “ALSAC has given me the opportunity of being the whole me at work and I'm forever grateful! I’m Mexican, Hispanic, Gay, Husband, Son, Brother, Uncle, Great Uncle, Friend, and Coworker!” he exclaimed.
He believes that the Hispanic community has a huge commitment to St. Jude. He says that “being in events from Seattle to Puerto Rico and every place in between, I have seen how our Hispanic staff, volunteers, and donors show up for our mission.”
Everyone is "rowing in the same direction towards the same goal of saving children."
When Carlos Fernández-Peña Acuña, PhD, thinks about his surroundings in the Developmental Neurobiology department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he sees a group committed to maintaining a positive outlook in all situations, but particularly when faced with adversity.
In describing the environment and culture, he uses the same words that he uses to describe his Venezuelan heritage.
“I think that a key part of the Venezuelan culture is that we are very happy people; we help each other and either through our food, our stories, or our music, we always find a way to maintain a positive spirit that keeps us moving forward during hard times,” he said. “This has been of invaluable help throughout my career, and especially here because science is embedded in adversity.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Fernández-Peña Acuña was raised in a small, nearby town called Guarenas with the staunch work ethic of a farming family. Upon his arrival at St. Jude three years ago, he saw similar values in his new coworkers.
“When I first started working at St. Jude, I experienced a welcoming environment where everyone was a team player, all rowing in the same direction towards the same goal of saving children,” he said. “Everyone is ready to help each other without hesitation.”
Working in Developmental Neurobiology under the guidance of Lindsay Schwarz, PhD, Fernández-Peña Acuña is part of a team that focuses on understanding how neural circuits are organized in the brain to generate diverse behaviors, including anxiety and depression.
With such an important mission, he is inspired each day he comes to the lab.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that every discovery that we make has the potential to help in the cure of catastrophic diseases in children,” he said.
“Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month brings me great honor and pride."
Jess Cerda grew up hearing about St. Jude, as it was her family’s favorite charitable organization. After working in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, she joined ALSAC as Regional Managing Director for Eastern Florida in 2017.
“What I enjoy most about what I do,” said Jess, “is building relationships, coaching team members and seeing them succeed, as well as the magic of bringing to fruition a constituent’s gift.”
Living in Miami, it has been useful for Jess to speak Spanish. “There is a large Hispanic community in Miami, and it allows me to communicate in their native language about the impact of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and our local footprint. In addition to the awareness piece, being Hispanic in a senior role provides our youth inspiration that with hard work and dedication they, too, can successfully work and grow within a large organization.”
“Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month brings me great honor and pride,” said Jess. “It reminds me of the sacrifices my parents and many others make to provide greater opportunities for their families.”
In addition to spreading awareness for the mission of St. Jude, Jess encourages everyone to visit her native Ecuador. “You can cross the equator or ‘La Mitad del Mundo’ as we call it, should your travels bring you to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Also, Ecuador is known for its Galapagos Islands, distributed in either side of the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean, made famous by Charles Darwin. If you haven’t visited Ecuador, I hope this has motivated you to take a trip!”
"My inspiration comes from seeing the children of St. Jude every day."
When Lizzie Wickman’s grandmother immigrated from Cuba to the United States as a child, a good portion of her Cuban culture stayed behind as the family assimilated to the American way of life.
However, cooking and sharing Cuban cuisine were important traditions that remained in her family through generations. While her family shunned tradition to mix with their surroundings all those years ago, it was those very traditions that helped Wickman adjust to life at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When she arrived in Memphis, Wickman harkened back to the pastelitos de guayaba, lechon asado and croquetas from her childhood to bridge gaps with her new community.
“When I started at St. Jude, I used cooking to share my Cuban culture with my classmates,” she said. “Through food, I made great friendships with my classmates and coworkers while adding to the diversity already present on the St. Jude campus.”
From the time she first visited St. Jude as an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University, Wickman felt at home in a cutting-edge and collaborative environment. Now in her fifth year as a graduate student in the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences program, Wickman finds herself in the perfect atmosphere to hone her craft while fulfilling her passion for advancing the science of pediatric medical care.
“On one of my first visits to the clinic, we visited children in the inpatient unit. I saw firsthand how much care the doctors and nurses give each child, the amount of teamwork that goes into creating each child’s care, and the reason why I decided to get my PhD,” she said. “My inspiration comes from seeing the children of St. Jude every day. Despite the reason they are here, they provide so much hope and happiness to campus. Seeing the children on campus motivates me daily to make science more accessible and to make safer therapies for the children at St. Jude.”
National heritage: Mexican
Senior Advisor, Donor Cultivation - ALSAC
Verónica’s first encounter with ALSAC occurred back in 2007 when she received a phone call from a friend with a job opportunity. It was then that she came to know her mission. She accepted the job and became a bilingual resource for the call centers without thinking about it twice.
Nobody could have guessed that 15 years later, her passion and commitment to her work would have endured and grown even stronger. Recently, Verónica received a promotion. She now serves as a senior advisor, cultivating Hispanic donors through the St. Jude Children’s Hospital’s social media. Her responsibilities include creating positive and authentic experiences for the Hispanic audience.
For Verónica, being born and raised in Mexico is a source of great pride and one to which she owes her two positions at ALSAC. She stated: “The home I grew up in wasn’t just bilingual, it was bicultural. Thanks to my parents, I greatly enjoy the traditions of both of my cultures, Mexican and American". Those two cultures have awakened in Verónica the curiosity for traveling, learning about new cultures and helping the Hispanic community within the United States. “It’s not just about the traditions. It’s also about enjoying the food, the music … and celebrating those differences. This is what I love,” she said.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is incredibly important for Verónica and in her 15 years at ALSAC, one of the things that have made her the happiest is seeing how the bilingual teams have grown through the years. “There’s more of us and, more importantly, we are rich in diversity.”
National heritage: Argentinean
Deputy Medical Director, Occupational Health - St. Jude
Assistant Member, Infectious Diseases
Diego Hijano, MD, MSc, is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and the Deputy Medical Director of Occupational Health, a division investigating devastating diseases affecting children.
Hijano’s research highlights the effects of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 in immunocompromised children. He works primarily with kids undergoing bone marrow transplants and plays a critical role in strengthening and informing infection control, antimicrobial and diagnostic stewardship programs.
"Hispanic and Afro-Hispanic communities are not always represented in studies on COVID-19 and the information almost never reaches us," he said. "This month, we highlight the importance of ensuring that these groups are embodied in our research and that Hispanic communities are equipped to make informed decisions based on scientific evidence."
Hijano joined St. Jude in June 2014 as a Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellow and soon became a full-time instructor. He received his Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Vanderbilt University.
Before moving to Tennessee, Dr. Hijano studied medicine at National University of La Plata, Argentina, where he later worked as a Graduate Assistant Professor. He also received his master's degree in clinical effectiveness, emphasizing respiratory viruses, in 2018 from the University of Buenos Aires.
National heritage: Puerto Rican
Senior Advisor Multicultural Marketing and Development – ALSAC
Diama wasn’t just a casual admirer of St. Jude and ALSAC’s mission. Rather she was someone who actively supported said mission through monthly donations as an Angel of Hope. Little did she know that eight years after becoming a donor, she would be working for these organizations as a member of the multicultural marketing team.
Being the senior advisor for multicultural marketing and development has allowed Diama to grow professionally, learn more about the world of non-profit organizations, and grow as a person and a mother. As part of her role, she advises multiple programs to broaden their multiculturalism while simultaneously researching, studying and staying up to date with the newest trends within marketing, with a particular focus placed on multicultural marketing. “The nature of my job heavily ties into who I am and to my roots. That’s why I feel such a passion for what I do because I love playing with the intersectionality of being an Afro-Latina woman,” she affirmed.
Being a Hispanic person born and raised in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean Island, is a source of pride for her. “Coming from such a small island and being able to have such an intellectual impact is something else. We are a beautiful mix of three cultures and those roots have gifted me the ability to see and identify what binds us as cultures. Being able to look for what unifies us … what makes us “us” instead of what makes someone else “other” from a cultural point of view,” she stated.
For this reason, Hispanic Heritage Month has such a unique meaning for Diama, because it’s something that reveals how cultures gift us with the ability to understand the beginning of all things. “For me, being Latina is knowing who I am, how I am and why I am. It also knows how that’s molded me beyond language, music and food. It’s everything,”
National heritage: Guatemalan-American
ECC Director – ALSAC
When his wife abandoned everything she knew in Florida to be a part of ALSAC, Carlos knew that he wanted to make a difference and be a part of that mission. His trajectory began as with the merchandise team at the St. Jude Gift Shop. He started in a temporary position and continues to grow into what it is today, the director of the Enterprise Call Center, or ECC, which is the call center for St. Jude.
Carlos described his trajectory at ALSAC as one of the most gratifying experiences of his professional life thanks to the support and guidance provided by his mentors. In his role, he provides support for three different teams: the business area, sales and sales support and university call centers. His team engages with donors on all campaigns seeking to strengthen their involvement with St. Jude further. One of his proudest moments was being recognized as the “Leader of the Year in Donor Experience.”
For Carlos, being Hispanic means more than being able to speak Spanish and belonging to Guatemala. For him, it means family, music, art, history, and so much more. It also means that he is part of a culture that proudly integrates itself into communities, continuously contributing to causes and learning from others. He expressed: “What grants me the most pride is that my parents instilled our roots both in me and my siblings, giving us the opportunity of having two cultures and languages, amongst other advantages. This has allowed me to be who I am and now, as a father I’ve been able to instill these same lessons in my son”.
During this Hispanic Heritage Month, Carlos celebrates sharing his culture, history, and ancestors amongst other great treasures from Guatemala. His great pride is that his country counts with remote areas with different dialects and that there even indigenous towns with their own languages and customs.
National heritage: Salvadorian
Associate Member, Infectious Diseases – St. Jude
Currently Gabriela Marón Alfaro, MD is a pediatric infectious disease specialist. Her research interests include studying infectious complications in immunocompromised hosts and dengue viral infections. She is also interested in treating pediatric and adolescent HIV/AIDS.
“We should celebrate and honor the culture and achievements of remarkable Hispanic physicians who work endlessly to provide care to patients from all backgrounds while inspiring the next generation of healthcare providers.”
Alfaro earned her medical degree from the Universidad Evangélica de El Salvador in San Salvador, El Salvador and her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
National heritage: Mexican-American
Director of Marketing, South California Region – ALSAC
From a very young age, Beatriz had a special dream to one day work on furthering the mission of ST. Jude and ALSAC. Her life took a drastic turn at the age of 9 when she was diagnosed with leukemia and had to receive treatment for two years. Her desire to work at these organizations was born, and it only continued to grow throughout the years. “I was not a St. Jude patient, but I feel in my heart that I benefited from the investigations, research and treatments that they share with the world,” she stated.
Her first position at ALSAC was as a territory representative, a role in which she helped fundraise money for four years. After a brief hiatus period, in 2014, Beatriz assumed the position of marketing director of southern California, which is the same position she still holds today. Under this role, Beatriz supervises one team and all their fundraising efforts. She also aids with operations at the Santa Ana office in California.
For Beatriz being Hispanic is something special. It belongs to a rich culture with traditions, history and full of joy. Even though she was born in California, she has a deep connection to her Mexican heritage, thanks to her parents. “My grandparents were farmers in Jalisco, and that fills me with pride, knowing where my origins come from. I’m fascinated by my culture and Mexican history, especially the Aztecs and Mayas,” she said. Her most significant point of pride is still being so connected with her culture and continuing to use her language to communicate with her parents. It’s a legacy she wishes to pass on to her children.
Beatriz views Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to share her culture, educate others, and share what it means to have different cultures in other countries. She also wishes to celebrate the achievements of people not only in Latin America but also in this country.
National heritage: Paraguayan
Director, Infectious Diseases Program, St. Jude Global – St. Jude
Member, Infectious Diseases
Miguela Caniza, MD, MPH, is the director of the Infectious Diseases Program for St. Jude Global. She also serves as a faculty member in the Department of Infectious Diseases.
Caniza’s research interests include examining infection care and control among immunocompromised pediatric patients in countries of limited resources. She has also taken on a leadership role educating communities across the world in healthcare and quality improvements.
“I encourage fellow Hispanic physicians to embrace their heritage in the workplace,” said Caniza. “I’m part of the global community, offering a multi-lingual, bicultural perspective which allows me to collaborate more effectively with localized teams to improve outcomes for children with cancer worldwide.”
Caniza received her medical degree from Universidad Nacional de Asuncion Faculty of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.
National heritage: Mexican
Audience and User Experience Specialist - ALSAC
When Francisco discovered ALSAC 6 years ago, he didn't have to think twice before deciding that he wanted to dedicate himself to supporting the mission of St. Jude. He takes it upon himself to study the audiences that see or hear St. Jude’s messages, and offer them a web experience that is relevant and interesting. He says it’s difficult to find another organization with such a worthy, humane and necessary mission.
Francisco easily finds the inspiration to work every day. Having the opportunity to meet with families and patients and being able to observe how they cope with their treatment puts everything into perspective. "It feeds you emotionally and makes you feel that you have to give more of yourself to move any project forward and get better results.”
Although he is proud of his heritage, he also identifies himself more as a person of this country, but with a distinct set of attributes and values. Among them, the pride of speaking two languages and being part of a community that has an extremely rich and diverse musical heritage and that values family and friendship in a special way. He also has a deep appreciation for social gatherings and dancing.
"We are not foreigners, we are from here," says Francisco. "We love this country and we have always been willing to defend this land. We have also been part of important and historical changes, technological advances and cultural richness.”
As an example of the Mexican-American cultural duality that exists in his own home and in many others, he points out how interesting it is to celebrate American festivities, adding his special touch. "You end up assimilating the traditions of where you live, but at the same time you bring your own cultural traditions and experiences," said Francisco.
Hispanic Heritage Month has a special meaning for him because it is a good opportunity to recognize Hispanics in this country for their great contributions.
National heritage: Venezuelan
Development Specialist - ALSAC
Mariangeles was given a second chance at life at age 12, when after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in her home country, Venezuela, she was given only one week to live. Fortunately, she met a doctor who had ties to St. Jude and immediately referred her there for treatment. Since then, the feeling of giving back to ALSAC and St. Jude a little of what they gave her is near and present to her.
At St. Jude, she was given a very small chance of survival. Her doctor, however, called it "a miracle" because when she woke up after a coma, the amount of cancer cells in her body were almost non-existent.
She says that her experience as a patient connects her in a very special way to her work. That appreciation naturally led her to start working at ALSAC in the Memphis office over three years ago.
She is currently involved in 18 fundraising programs, which includes organizing dinners, galas, radiothons, golf tournaments, the St. Jude Leadership Society and Up ‘til Dawn.
Mariangeles enjoys playing tennis and sharing with her family and friends. "For me, being Hispanic is representing the culture and taking pride in my heritage," she said. She says that what makes her most proud is being able to carry the message she carries in her heart, in two languages.
For Mariangeles, working at ALSAC goes far beyond a salary, a degree or a schedule. For her, it's about helping the hospital continue to save lives. "I do dream, like Danny Thomas dreamed, that one day the hospital will close because there is no more cancer," said Mariangeles.
Today, her deep passion and appreciation is reflected in everything she does. As proof of this, more than 200 young students who were raising funds for St. Jude as part of her Up til Dawn program gave her an award with her name: "The Mariangeles Grear Legacy Award," a moment she remembers with great pride.
National heritage: Guatemalan
Unidad Nacional de Oncologia Pediatrica, Guatemala City, Guatemala
Master in Global Child Health student
Thelma Velasquez Herrera, MD, has had a relationship with St. Jude for years. The hospital where she works, Unidad Nacional de Oncologia Pediatrica in Guatemala City, Guatemala, is one of 24 St. Jude partner sites around the world.
As a student in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School Global Child Health master’s program, Velasquez Herrera has enjoyed learning about the “global” aspects of the management of pediatric cancer: namely the components that rely on international, national, governmental and institutional policies. She hopes to use this newfound knowledge to improve the treatment of pediatric cancer in Guatemala.
“St. Jude has been the image of excellence in clinical treatment and research for childhood cancer,” she says. “St. Jude offers excellent facilities, access to world-renowned faculty and the benefit of training online while still being able to work. When I learned about the wonderful opportunity to gain a Master’s in Global Child Health degree, I decided without a doubt that I wanted to do it.”
Velasquez Herrera says that completing her degree will be one of the biggest achievements of her career.
“St. Jude has created an environment of cultural diversity that is completely inclusive and prioritizes partnership and friendship among students across the world,” she says. “I can’t think of another center that would be able to create this incredible atmosphere of learning and collaboration.”
National heritage: Costa Rican
General Medical Doctor
National Children Hospital, San Jose, Costa Rica
Master in Global Child Health student
Growing up with orthopedic shoes and correction bands on her legs, Adriana María Porras Moreno, MD, knew that she wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to help other children like her get the treatment they needed. Porras Moreno is one of the members of the first cohort of students in the Global Child Health master’s program.
“St. Jude is a very prestigious and renowned institution,” she says. “This program has provided me a solid foundation to start building more skills to help improve the treatment options for children in Costa Rica.”
Porras Moreno hopes that her time at St. Jude will reveal a deeper insight into independent research methods. She wants to ultimately grow her career, focusing on global health and increasing the treatment options available for children in low- and middle-income countries.
“There are limited options in Costa Rica to gain more formal academic training,” she says. “Being able to engage with so many experienced researchers in the environment that St. Jude has created has been the perfect next step for me.”
National heritage: Puerto Rican
Development and International Relations - ALSAC
Alvis has lived in the United States for over 20 years, but even before coming to this country, she has been actively involved in the world of volunteering. As she developed in that field, she had a vision that would bring her to ALSAC to educate other foundations on how to raise funds. She is convinced that St. Jude's mission is much more important than what you might want as an individual.
Helping others has always been a part of her life, so she has sought to elevate a message of equality in everything she does. She firmly believes that education and knowledge are fundamental to achieving that equality.
Alvis' focus is on training her colleagues who are helping children suffering from cancer around the world, in countries where the same resources are not available as in the United States.
In one of the programs she has collaborated on, she teaches foundation recipients around the world about fundraising so they can take ideas and implement them in their communities. "It's very rewarding because I know that in some little corner of the world, a child is smiling because they have access to treatments that their hospital can strategically provide now," said Alvis.
Alvis is convinced that even though we may never see the impact of our contribution up close, the purpose of helping others is to focus on the little things we can do, our “grain of sand” as she calls it, to make humanity a little better.
For her, to be Hispanic is to feel pride in her roots, to know the value of love, to be humble and to help everyone be better. She is most proud of having had the opportunity to learn her culture’s values and the ability to love life deeply and passionately.
National heritage: Puerto Rican
PhD student in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School
Ana Vazquez-Pagan remembers visiting St. Jude for the first time and being in awe. She has grown up watching the commercials with her grandmother and seeing her donate to the hospital.
“I’ve always wanted to help others,” she says. “Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to work at an institution that shared my goals. I was so moved when I walked the halls of the hospital and saw the patient artwork and the Puerto Rican flag in the Danny Thomas Research Center. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
In her hometowns of Caguas and San Juan, Vazquez-Pagan saw first-hand how the H1N1 pandemic affected her family and how difficult it was for people to recover from their illnesses. This experience motivated her to join the lab of Stacey Schultz-Cherry, PhD, in the Department of Infectious Diseases. She is studying how influenza virus infection affects high-risk groups. She has also been able to help with the hospital’s efforts to screen employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve always wanted to make my family and my island proud,” she says. “I want others with my heritage to know that there is an opportunity for them at a place like St. Jude. I used to dream about working here and today I’m doing what I love most at a top-notch research institution.”
National heritage: Venezuelan
Bilingual Video Producer - ALSAC
Javier has an extensive educational background in music and TV production that began in his birth country of Venezuela and ended in the United States, where he has lived for more than 20 years. In addition to his valuable experience, Javier is convinced that a greater force than himself and a series of signs showed him that St. Jude was where he needed to be. When he entered the hospital for the first time, he felt what he describes as a magnetic force pulling him in. He fell in love with the mission and immediately thought, "God is telling me that this is where I need to be.”
Currently, he is in charge of production for Spanish language TV commercials and feels it is a great privilege to be able to combine his greatest passions: TV production and music composition. As a passionate musician, he lives under the premise that although not everyone is called to play an instrument or sing, anyone can apply the principles of music to their life; on a personal level, at work and in their interpersonal relationships.
In recent years, he has dedicated himself to studying in-depth the relationship between music and emotions, which has shown him the influence music has on the decisions we make. He believes that our reaction to music reflects a map that is in our hearts.
Regarding the process of producing St. Jude’s commercials, Javier emphasizes the importance of listening with the heart instead of the ears. He believes that authenticity is the most important tool to create the empathy, compassion and generosity that must always be present when producing a video. In addition, he composes the music to draw out emotions he wants people to feel.
Javier believes that maintaining the concept of family, as well as constant communication, is one of his favorite Hispanic traditions. For him, being Hispanic in the United States means giving your best every day to make this country better.
National heritage: Dominican
Software engineer – ALSAC
Because of his experience as a patient, Miguel feels an even deeper connection to St. Jude, which makes it even more meaningful to him to pursue a career with ALSAC. As part of the technology team, Miguel develops solutions to help make it easier and more rewarding for people to learn about St. Jude and support its lifesaving mission.
“After years of seeing my doctors and specialists use their St. Jude employee ID, it was a surreal experience for me to receive mine,” Miguel says. “I wear it with pride every day”.
Among his most satisfying career achievements, Miguel cherishes the moment when his technology team asked him to make the first donation through a new system he helped develop. As Miguel said, "As a St. Jude survivor, it was an honor to be part of this new release and look closely at this organization's commitment to continue raising funds to find cures and treat patients around the world."
National heritage: Mexican and American
Senior Liaison, Radio Development Operations Field Development – ALSAC
Emmeline first heard about St. Jude while working at Univision Radio in El Paso, Texas, helping to coordinate the radiothons that move so many people to help the children relying on St. Jude. That led to a role with ALSAC as part of the Radio team growing Promesa y Esperanza, the fundraising and awareness program within the Hispanic community.
“When the opportunity to work for St. Jude arose, I didn't think I was going to move to Memphis,” said Emmeline. "But after visiting the hospital, I felt I was more than ready to move."
Almost 10 years later, Emmeline enjoys giving tours of St. Jude herself, providing the same moving experience to celebrities and donors who visit St. Jude. As Emmeline said, "For me, it is an honor to be part of their visits and witness how St. Jude and its comprehensive patient care exceeds all their expectations."
National heritage: Mexican/Spanish
Graduate School Student
Victoria Honnell learned about St. Jude at a young age. Her parents were monthly donors and received mail from the hospital.
“I love the mission,” she says. “It’s a mission everybody can get behind.”
After growing up in New Mexico, Honnell moved to Memphis to attend Rhodes College. During her senior year, she began a student position at St. Jude that eventually transitioned into a full-time research technologist job working on preclinical trials for rhabdomyosarcoma. After being offered a spot in the inaugural class of the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, she knew she wanted to stay.
In June of 2019, Honnell earned a master’s degree as a member of the first graduating class at the St. Jude Graduate School.
While she misses the culture and food of New Mexico, as well as being around many other Hispanic families, she says she appreciates the rich history of Memphis and loves how quickly the city is growing.
In her work, Honnell is continually motivated by St. Jude patients and families. While most of her time is spent in the lab, she enjoys how the graduate school coursework has given her more clinical opportunities through following doctors and their patients.
“At the end of the day, you never forget why you’re here,” she says. “It’s really rewarding knowing the work you’re doing could influence patients’ lives.”
National heritage: Puerto Rican
Senior Philanthropic Advisor
Barbara has always been passionate about public relations, event planning and learning about different cultures. By raising funds and awareness for St. Jude through ALSAC, she found a way to develop her career and further her father’s wish for a world where no child would suffer from cancer, just as he suffered.
In her time at ALSAC, Barbara has cultivated relationships with St. Jude supporters by coordinating events to raise funds in the Hispanic community, including the FedEx/St. Jude Angels & Stars Gala in Miami. Barbara currently works in Gift Planning, visiting generous people in South Florida determined to help children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
“It is a privilege for me to hear firsthand what motivates these people to be part of the mission of St. Jude,” said Barbara, “as well as making sure they know that, through their contributions, they are becoming part of the history of St. Jude and the fight against childhood cancer.”
National heritage: Puerto Rican
Member, St. Jude Faculty; Senior Vice President, Clinical Trials Administration; Associate Director of Clinical Research, Comprehensive Cancer Center; Charles B. Pratt Chair in Solid Tumor Research
Victor Santana, MD, was in medical school at the University of Puerto Rico when he first heard about the groundbreaking clinical trials available at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that were curing children with cancer.
“From then on, I knew I needed to go to St. Jude if I wanted to advance my career and become a clinical investigator in pediatric hematology-oncology,” he says.
Once he arrived, Santana realized St. Jude is dedicated not just to curing cancer but to taking care of the whole patient including the relationships between the medical, psychosocial and spiritual needs. After growing up in Puerto Rico, he has an interesting perspective on treating Hispanic patients as well as those of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“I feel that my heritage has made me a better physician,” he says. “When you treat patients who are different from you, it makes you more sensitive to the cultural aspects that impact how you provide medical care.”
In the 35 years Santana has been at St. Jude, he has had the opportunity to take on many roles, from clinician to investigator to administrator. Holding such diverse positions has kept him intellectually motivated and challenged him to look at things from different perspectives. Not only has he grown personally, but he has seen how the institution has developed.
“One of the changes I’ve noticed is an increased sensitivity to cultural issues,” he says. “It’s amazing the support we have here for families of all backgrounds and cultures.”
Angela K. Carrillo Alocén, PhD
National heritage: Peruvian
Clinical Research Associate I
When Angela K. Carrillo Alocén, PhD, first joined St. Jude, she knew she could contribute to important discoveries in oncology and infectious diseases in her role as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics. Six years later, the Lima, Perú, native continues that work but with a worldwide view as a clinical research associate.
“Since I’m from Perú this means a lot to me,” she says. “The Latin American region will benefit greatly from the guidance and assistance that St. Jude can provide. As a scientist, there was a long process until my research discoveries could reach sick children. In this job, however, what I do has a direct impact on the health care and lives of children globally.”
Carrillo Alocén collaborates with physicians at approximately 30 Latin American hospitals, assisting them in the implementation of quality improvement, therapeutic and non-therapeutic clinical research. Much of this research has never been done in these countries, meaning it is truly groundbreaking.
“We have the mission to take St. Jude to the world,” she says. “This won’t be an easy task, but we have made great progress. We aren’t just trying to implement St. Jude protocols, but we want to adjust them according to the needs and the realities of these hospitals and countries so they can be successful.”
Sandra Da Silva
National heritage: Venezuelan
Administrative Assistant II
More than two years ago, Sandra Da Silva found a home in Memphis when she and her husband left behind the economic crisis crippling their home country of Venezuela. And it was at St. Jude that she discovered her mission when she joined the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine earlier this year.
“What inspires me most in my work is knowing that the small contribution I can make each day with my colleagues is helping St. Jude achieve our goal,” she says. “Our team is incredibly passionate and dedicated to saving the lives of children around the world.”
Da Silva met a Venezuelan doctor earlier this year who told her about the difficulties he faces in treating children because getting medicine to the country is problematic. But even when he has it, some patients can’t receive treatment because they’re too malnourished.
“He was looking for ways to help with meals and treatments for families so that he could carry out the protocols,” she says. “That conversation helped me see that there is a reason I’m here at St. Jude, and that I’m going to do what I can to help prevent more children from dying from cancer and other catastrophic illnesses in Venezuela as well as any country in the world.”
Alejandra Gonzalez Ruiz, MD, MIH
National heritage: Mexican
Project Coordinator, Critical Care, EVAT
Alejandra Gonzalez Ruiz first learned about St. Jude from a piece of mail: a donation request from ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness arm of St. Jude.
“While I was a physician in Mexico, I had a patient with HIV,” she says. “I saw the stigma that surrounded her treatment and I decided that I had to do something for her and for any patient that needed help. Years later, I received some mail that featured a child from Mexico that inspired me to learn more about the hospital. I wanted to know what else I could do to help.”
Once Gonzalez Ruiz learned more about St. Jude, she was moved by the vision of founder Danny Thomas.
“Everyone should have access to health care no matter where you’re from, your economic status or your heritage,” she says. “I feel like everyone at St. Jude is driven by this same goal. Coming here every day doesn’t feel like work—it feels like passion.”
Working as a project coordinator for the hospital’s Critical Care Unit, Gonzalez Ruiz helps to train physicians and nurses from partner sites in countries around the world to use an early warning system (EVAT) developed by Asya Agulnik, MD, Assistant Member from St. Jude. This system is designed not only to make patient care safer and more effective, but also to minimize costs at those institutions.
Alisha Gray, MPH
National heritage: Puerto Rican and Salvadorian
Project Coordinator, Sub-Saharan Africa Region and Disease Burden and Simulation Unit
Alisha Gray, MPH, finds inspiration in stories, specifically the ones that are written daily at St. Jude. But in addition to Danny Thomas’ dream that “no child should die in the dawn of life,” she finds inspiration in the hospital’s place in history.
“I did a deep dive in terms of trying to better understand why St. Jude was created, and I also discovered that Danny Thomas had another serious goal,” she says. “He wanted doctors, nurses and researchers of color here. That’s huge, especially in the South and at that time. Moving that forward is super inspiring to me.”
As project coordinator for both the Sub-Saharan Africa Region and the Disease Burden and Simulation Unit, Gray works at the heart of numerous initiatives that will expand pediatric oncology care to low- and middle-income countries. That includes the creation of a pediatric cancer registry that will track patients and help hospitals better understand what resources are needed.
“It’s a combination of a tool for patient tracking and quality improvement that will empower other countries to improve their care,” Gray says. “I believe in this vision.”
National heritage: Mexican
Cure4Kids Member Services and Live Events Coordinator
On Ana Shuler’s first day in Memphis, she was immediately drawn to St. Jude. “I saw the hospital as we were crossing the Mississippi river and I had to know more about that incredible place. Once I started reading about St. Jude, I knew that I had to work here.”
In the 17 years she has since dedicated to St. Jude, Shuler has been working with a global focus in mind. Early in her tenure, Shuler was promoted to the Cure4Kids team, where she has worked for the past 16 years. Cure4Kids is a web-based platform that provides online medical education and operates as a collaboration and information exchange for health care providers around the world. In her current role, Shuler supports more than 2,100 members worldwide in both English and Spanish and coordinates more than 180 live web conferences each month.
“Being able to provide support to the Cure4Kids collaborative groups to improve the care needed to effectively treat children worldwide has been amazing,” she says. “I like to feel as though I’m making a difference. Knowing that the training that we provide can positively impact the care of children in low- and middle-income countries is incredible. I like being part of our vision that every child with cancer has access to quality care no matter where they live in the world.”
Cesar Villegas, MD
National heritage: Venezuelan
Clinical Research Associate III
Cesar Villegas, MD, was first drawn to St. Jude by the stories he heard from survivors.
“I have had the opportunity to interact with families whose children were St. Jude patients in my previous experience as a surgeon in Venezuela,” he says. “The way that the families talked about St. Jude was inspiring. It was intriguing for me because they were more than thankful for everything that St. Jude did for them. It made me wonder: what was this hospital, and what can I do to work there?”
Initially working in the Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, Villegas recently moved to the new Department of Global Pediatric Medicine. There, he coordinates and implements projects focused on pediatric leukemia in low- and middle-income countries.
“I was drawn to St. Jude because how they combine basic science, treatment, patient care and research is unique,” he says. “There’s no place like this. I love being able to work with survivors and find out what happened with them. What were the consequences of their treatment, what did they go through, and what obstacles are they facing now? I’ve worked for other institutions and nothing compares to the research that we’re doing here. Because of St. Jude Global, I have the opportunity to give back to patients in low- and middle-income countries and I’m so excited about that.”
National heritage: Mexican
Liaison, Radio Development | ALSAC
“I think that I get to meet the best of humanity in this work,” said Fabiola, who has worked for 14 years at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.
When Fabiola was growing up in Tecate, Mexico, the little nephew of a family friend got cancer. His family initially couldn’t find him treatment, but when they were able to send him to St. Jude, the news spread quickly. “It always stuck with me,” she says.
As part of her work for ALSAC, Fabiola has visited several partner sites in Latin America to help train them on the St. Jude model, an experience she describes as the highlight of her career. “I could see for the first time how St. Jude was this hospital without walls,” she said. “It was life-changing for me.”
Gabriela "Gaby" Maron Alfaro, MD
National heritage: Salvadorian
Assistant Member, St. Jude faculty ǀ Infectious Diseases
Gaby Maron Alfaro, MD, remembers the first time she learned about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. She was a pediatric resident at Hospital Nacional de Niños Benjamin Bloom, El Salvador – the first international site to partner with St. Jude.
“I knew St. Jude was exactly where I wanted to train,” Maron Alfaro says. More than a decade later, she uses her training as a clinician and researcher to prevent, detect and cure infections in children with life-threatening diseases.
Maron Alfaro says, “Seeing children who at some point were extremely sick with severe infections doing well is the most inspiring and wonderful feeling ever.”
Last year, Maron Alfaro completed the requirements to become a certified translator for patients and families with a limited proficiency in English. While Maron Alfaro extends care to families from around the world, she says, "I have a very special place in my heart for our St. Jude Latino families.”
National heritage: Mexican
Sr. Liaison, Marketing Data and Technology | ALSAC
On Jerry’s first day in Memphis, after moving there as a child, his father told him the story of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas as they drove past the hospital. "I relate to Danny Thomas being the son of immigrants, even though I was not born in the United States like him," said Jerry who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico.
Jerry joined ALSAC eight years ago as part of the Donor Services team, answering calls from donors. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of positions, and now he works on innovative solutions to serve marketing with technology. But his favorite things about working at ALSAC are the people, and the opportunities to serve.
“What I like most is volunteering, especially in the places that host the patients and their families,” he said. “Having contact with the patients and their families is very gratifying.”
Marta Jarquin-Pardo, PhD
National heritage: Costa Rican
Program Manager, Global Pediatric Medicine
Marta Jarquin-Pardo, PhD, a program manager in Global Pediatric Medicine, uses her scientific and management skills to extend the St. Jude mission to other parts of the world. Eighty percent of children diagnosed with cancer live in developing countries.
Jarquin-Pardo, a St. Jude employee for 10 years, worked as a scientific recruiter in Human Resources before she moved to Global Pediatric Medicine. Now, she helps manage projects that are designed to increase the cure rates for pediatric cancers in Central and South America.
"The best part about coming to work each day is when I have lunch outside and see the patients," Jarquin-Pardo says. She recalls watching one patient happily playing in the Danny and Rose Marie Thomas Memorial Garden—living the present moment, enjoying the sunny day.
Jarquin-Pardo wants to create more sunny days, in countries a world away, for children with pediatric cancer.
Blanca Martinez Jimenez
National heritage: Mexican
Medical Interpreter, Interpreter Services
A native of Mexico, Blanca Martinez Jimenez often interprets for Hispanic patients and families. “I can see their faces,” she says, remembering past introductions. “They light up.”
A three-year employee of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she is a graduate of the University of Memphis Health Care Interpreter Program and a Certified Medical Interpreter.
“I never thought that I was going to be a medical interpreter,” says Martinez Jimenez. Then she watched a poignant story on TV about a St. Jude patient. “It broke my heart,” she remembers.
She called Volunteer Services and accepted a position in the Linda R. Hajar Family Resource Center. Even then, she empowered patients and families to take an active role in treatment.
Eventually, Martinez Jimenez pursued the educational requirements for medical interpretation. Bilingual competence alone is not enough to be a medical interpreter, she explains.
As a fulltime employee, she delights in delivering good news—telling a patient “no more chemo” and singing the “No More Chemo” song. “We’re like a bridge between the provider and the families,” she says. “I love what I do.”
National heritage: Mexican
Marketing Analyst | Marketing Operations| ALSAC
Working at ALSAC has a special meaning for Enrique. It means giving back to the hospital that worked tirelessly on behalf of his daughter, Arianna, after she was diagnosed with cancer.
When Arianna was 3, she was found to have a rare cancerous tumor and started treatment at St. Jude. Weeks before her eighth birthday, she passed away, leaving an indelible mark on the organization. Mr. Shadyac truly loved Arianna," said Enrique, speaking of ALSAC President and CEO Richard C. Shadyac Jr. “Her picture is in his office.”
“It’s definitely my purpose in life to help families like mine,” said Enrique. “I speak the same language that patient families speak. I’ve been through everything they’ve been through as a patient parent. I feel like I’m giving back to everything that St. Jude did for us.”
If Enrique ever switched jobs, he would want to continue working for St. Jude. “I feel like she’s next to me at the hospital. Just having the connection to the hospital is big for me.”