Originally posted in South Jersey Magazine
by Rachel Morgan and Liz Hunter; Photo by Jeff Anderson
Valeria Galarza (pictured) knows firsthand how important living a healthy lifestyle is—and she’s made it her life’s mission to impart this bit of wisdom on to South Jersey kids. This year’s Woman of the Year is the VP of Strategic Advancement for the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties, which includes the NJ Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden (NJPHK-C), youth programs, public health programs, youth intervention, civic engagement and the Women’s Opportunity Center. Galarza also co-directs the NJPHK-C and helps spread the message of a healthy lifestyle for kids across the region, and is a new member of the Camden City Promise Zone Leadership Committee.
In Galarza’s previous role as program director and project manager of NJPHK-C, she was responsible for daily operations, most notably, advocating for and leading local policy efforts that supported physical activity and healthy eating in the city of Camden. And for Galarza, it’s personal.
“Improving the health of communities that have greater needs than others has always been dear to my heart because I grew up in such a community,” Galarza says. “My parents did the best they could to provide for my siblings and I and they pushed us to the best we can be. However, when you live in a community that doesn’t always support those goals, it’s hard for parents to make sure their kids get and stay healthy. I remember having to take public transportation to go food shopping in the next town over because that was the closest market to get fresh produce; and we didn’t have a car. I remember not being allowed to play outside because it wasn’t safe, so we would stay inside a lot—not realizing we weren’t getting enough exercise. I understand why getting and staying healthy in such an environment is challenging, which is why I am a health advocate.”
She also has big plans for the YMCA, a valued community resource. “I would love to see every community be served by our YMCA and to get to experience the delivery of our values: caring, honesty, respect and responsibility,” she says. “We have such dedicated staff that are committed to providing quality programs and experiences to children and families, which we take such pride in. For myself, my goal is to always advocate for healthy communities, no matter what the community.”
The Voorhees resident graduated with a bachelor’s in public health from Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and later earned her master’s in health education from St. Joseph’s University. She was also named Angel of the Year by the South Jersey Young Professionals Association (SJYPA), an honor bestowed upon someone who has shown an exceptional commitment to the betterment of South Jersey.SHARE: