Elizabeth Giannetta-Ramos is a name synonymous with COMPASS Youth Collaborative, and for good reason: on June 26, 2016, she celebrated twenty years with the agency.
Twenty years in one place is an amazing feat for just about anyone her age, but even more noteworthy given that Liz got her start as COMPASS’ founding member.
As a 15-year-old living in Hartford’s South End, Liz and her friends were looking for a safe place to hang out after school.
“There was no youth center or anything in the South End available to us,” Liz notes. “The closest after-school spot was the Boys and Girls Club near Hartford Magnet, but if you lived in our neighborhood you were too afraid to walk because it was dangerous – it was gang territory.”
Her dad was part of a local organizing group, HART (Hartford Areas Rally Together), and Liz got involved on the youth council.
Her passion for organizing began there. She started going door-to-door, surveying other youth and community members, and garnering support for a youth center.
“We really wanted a roller skating rink,” Liz recalls with a laugh, “but since the City wouldn’t go for that, we compromised on a rec center.”
Karl Koistinen, the recreation center’s first director, hired Liz in June of 1996 as a youth counselor. “I’m so thankful for Karl because he gave me my first job,” she says. “He, along with Hyacinth Yennie, were among the first people to advocate for the center.”
A year later, Liz helped interview and hire the current COMPASS Chief Executive Officer, Bob Pawloski.
“I remember meeting her and thinking of her as a cheerleader for the youth,” shares Bob. “Throughout her 20 years at COMPASS, she’s continued to be a champion for kids.”
Bob ran the youth center under the HART auspices (the program was known to the kids as the South End Knight Riders Youth Center) before spinning off as a separate nonprofit in 2001. COMPASS has evolved since then, from drop-in recreation center to multi-site agency. Today, the organization provides youth development programs in three schools, as well as a city-wide violence prevention program, the COMPASS Peacebuilders.
Bob credits Liz with bringing an incredible amount of resources and partnerships to the agency. And, he adds, her positivity and commitment to the community cannot be overstated.
“Liz brings to me the bright side of life. She’s always thinking of what she can do to improve the lives of people in our community.”
Over her career Liz has worked at Naylor School, spent ten years at South Middle School (now Asian Studies Academy), and for the past six years, has served as the COMPASS Director at Burns Latino Studies Academy.
As the Director, she manages partnerships for the school, brings in key resources for the kids and families, and oversees all COMPASS programs.
According to Joel Cruz, a pastor and former city council member, Liz represents a lot of what the city of Hartford aspires to be.
“Liz is one of those special people – that when you feel like giving up and when things feel like they won’t move forward – Liz is the person that you want on your team. Especially in Hartford, where people are tempted to say negative things about the city, Liz always finds the positivity. It’s uplifting to those around her.”
In 20 years, she’s uplifted thousands of young people – all of whom know her as Ms. Liz – and hundreds of teachers, administrators, and community leaders. She has made a huge impact on the lives of others.
One such person is Brittany Fisher, who met Liz as a 6th grader at South Middle School.
Liz, and COMPASS’ Jacquelyn Santiago, intervened when a fight broke out in the school parking lot. Brittany, at 11-years-old, was warding off a gang of boys. “They jumped her,” Liz remembers, “and had we not gotten there in time, she would have been seriously hurt.”
Brittany considers Liz her hero.
“Liz is not just Ms. Liz to me – I call her Momma Liz,” Brittany says with a smile. “When I first met her in 6th grade, she met me fighting. She saved my life. Had I not met her, I would still be involved in the stuff I was doing: fighting, gang activity, a lot going on in my family. Liz really swooped me up, took me under wing, kept me busy, and put me in every activity she could think of.”
Under Liz’s guidance, Brittany found her footing through middle school and high school. She went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven, and her Masters in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth. She recently married her sweetheart, Terrence, and became a mom to 18-month-old Alayah.
“I am who I am today,” Brittany surmises, “because of Liz.”
Liz, on behalf of everyone at COMPASS, and on behalf of every youth whose life has changed for the better because of you, thank you.