The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) said “see you later” to Cecilia Melo-Romie, longtime Spanish Multicultural Outreach Coordinator for Tennessee Disability Pathfinder. Melo-Romie retired on May 31 after 10 years of serving Nashville’s Hispanic community by assisting with the coordination of Spanish-speaking support groups, creating disability PSAs on Hispanic media, and translating VKC tip sheets and educational materials.
“Cecilia was a key part of our Tennessee Disability Pathfinder team. She worked tirelessly to connect individuals with disabilities and their families with supports and services – and she wouldn’t stop until she had made those connections,” said Elise McMillan, J.D., co-director of the VKC University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD), under which Pathfinder operates. “She knew that connecting these families was crucial and she realized the unique barriers and challenges individuals and families from other cultures face when trying to get disability services. Using her stellar network skills, Cecilia coordinated numerous Spanish radio and television interviews, public service announcements and articles.”
Melo-Romie started at the VKC in 2008 as Hispanic Outreach Coordinator, and her scope of service only grew as the years passed. Much of her work as the Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) Liaison and Statewide Multicultural Outreach Coordinator focused on bringing public awareness to the needs of Spanish-speaking individuals with disabilities living in Tennessee. She coordinated radio interviews with Pathfinder staff and agencies represented by Camino Seguro, a state-wide online database catering to the Spanish-speaking population, which covers disability issues, and mental health and social services. In addition, she expanded her multicultural reach and coordinated radio PSAs in Spanish, Kurdish, and Persian. Melo-Romie built relationships with Spanish-language radio stations across Tennessee and coordinated newspaper and magazine PSAs and articles about the unique barriers and challenges individuals and families from other cultures face when trying to get services.
The outreach effort worked, eventually leading to the expansion of Camino Seguro across East Tennessee. Melo-Romie also expanded multicultural outreach to other VKC programs such as the Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (VKC TRIAD), which offers autism diagnostic services, and TennesseeWorks, a statewide partnership of policymakers, employers, self-advocates and other stakeholders working to increase the number of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who are employed in Tennessee.
Melo-Romie’s effervescence and friendly demeanor meant that Spanish-speaking families always had a friend to turn to when seeking assistance or searching for community supports. She once assisted more than 100 families in a month by helping them complete paper applications in English. She successfully guided a family through the process of acquiring a house through Habitat for Humanity and worked with community agency partners to make homes more accessible for families with disabilities.
Once, she was working with a young man and his family when she learned he loved music and longed to have a piano of his own to play. Melo-Romie put out the call for a piano through her networks, raising awareness about the importance of access to joy and meaning through music enrichment. Not only did she find him a free piano, but she also found seven additional pianos for other individuals who she knew would benefit from playing the instrument.
“Cecilia has done so much to link state services across the board to members of our Hispanic communities,” said Wanda Willis, executive director of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, as she gave remarks at Melo-Romie’s May 18 retirement celebration. “She has been a Godsend to those families, and to Pathfinder.”
As a token of their appreciation for her contributions to the disability community, The Arc Tennessee awarded Melo-Romie with the 2019 Public Awareness Award at this year’s Tennessee Disability Megaconference awards ceremony on May 22.
“Cecilia’s passion, dedication, and persistence were evident in all aspects of her role with Pathfinder and contributed significantly to the overall success of the Multicultural Program.” Said Pathfinder program director Megan Hart, M.Ed. “On behalf of the families that she assisted and her colleagues, we will be forever grateful for her many contributions.”
Elizabeth Turner is associate director of VKC Communications.