Stacey Irizarry arrived on the Winchester scene eight years ago and is firmly rooted in its civic life. She began by participating in political campaigns and then by working with Winchester Inclusive Network (WIN), co-chairing the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (WINPAC), serving as vice-president of the Winchester Democratic Town Committee, and initiating grass-roots hurricane relief for Puerto Rico.

Stacey is married to Todd Kosterman and they have a son Zachary who is eight. Stacey currently works from home as an intellectual property project manager and patent agent at GTC Law Group.

Building bridges of community participation, inclusion, and visibility.

Stacey’s first impression of her new hometown Winchester was its vibrancy; so many residents involved in so many community organizations. Here the left-behind activism of her college years revived as she felt inspired to make connections.

As her involvement grew, so did the strength of an idea that came to motivate her civic engagement: “The need I saw was to make participation broader, more inclusive, and more visible.”

No stranger to activism, Stacey had during her college years at Princeton (BA in Chemistry) been involved around issues of HIV/AIDS. Right after college Stacey interned at the White House, working with the General Counsel office and then on Al Gore’s GLOBE program. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Pharmacology at Yale. She jokingly noted that she was learning so much about “wiring” she considered getting an electrician’s license on the side.

Early Life Experiences

Her early life experiences intertwine inextricably with her motivation for civic engagement. Stacey is a second generation, Puerto Rican-American who grew up in Brooklyn. Members of her extended family lived in a brownstone, five of its six units occupied by her family, cousins joyously in and out of each other’s apartments. The neighborhood was very diverse, and she never felt the need to be “loud and proud” about her ethnic heritage. At an early age she marched off on her own to take public transportation to school.

As a fifth grader, Stacey was selected by the Prep for Prep program, “Creating a Generation of Diverse Leaders,” in its talent search for under-represented students. The program involves two rigorous summer sessions and Wednesday after-school and all-day Saturday programs during the school year, preparing them to excel at private middle school. The program was completely free and led Stacey to integrate into her core being the concept of giving back to community. “Civic engagement is—simply—engagement,” she says.

Stacey attended a predominantly white middle and high school, Poly Prep Country Day School, on scholarship. An excellent student, she won the National Hispanic Merit Award. After the announcement, an ethnic slur appeared on her locker. Shocked and embarrassed, she immediately cleaned it off and never spoke of it.

When Stacey was seventeen and a college freshman, her father died. The impact of his death appears in “Telling the Truth,” a chapter she wrote for Be the Dream: Prep for Prep Graduates Share Their Stories (2003). It opens with the lines, “I lied to everyone about my father’s death. I said he died of lung cancer. Accepting AIDS as the cause…was difficult; telling others the truth was unthinkable.” As she worked through this loss, her passion became scientific inquiry around aspects of neurodegeneration and neurological disorder.

Stacey also learned that maintaining her integrity, her wholeness, meant not ever feeling shame about who she is, where she came from, or what she had experienced in life.

Scholarships, both need- and merit-based, supported her university years. With a sparkle in her eye, she said that finally—in 2005—she paid off a loan taken back in 1991 to purchase a computer. 1991 is also the year the Network began.

Back to Winchester

In 2016, Stacey helped found a non-partisan group, Winchester Inclusive Network (WIN), of like-minded residents working to help women and people of color win elections at the local level. Noting that a gap persists in the diversity of our decision makers, Stacey says, “We must become aggressively inclusive if we want the best government in town, the best school system. We must be able to benefit from the perspectives and experiences of our full community.

WIN works to identify candidates; encourage them to consider running, asking each at least seven times to run; then supporting them from gathering signatures to designing a postcard mailer. This last year 21 people ran for Town Meeting and for Town Boards and 15 won office. Stacey won a seat as a Town Meeting Representative.

This past year Stacey assumed the co-chair position for the Winchester Special Education Parent Advisory Council (WIN-PAC). She notes prior Network honorees Sahar Ahmed Awerbuch, founder of Brio Integrated Theater, and educator Jennifer Flaherty, promoter of annual Light It Up Blue, and how they serve as resources for our children.

In her new position she can reinforce the support and celebration of those whose work is to understand, appreciate, and support our differences, in particular Winchester’s special ed teachers and staff. This hard-working group is perhaps less visible while they play an amazing function in children’s lives. Stacey would love to see a more widespread dialogue and openness about some of the challenges our children with special needs face. In creation now is a working legislative advocacy group to maintain a Beacon Hill presence around critical issues of law and funding.

Winchester. . . and Beyond

On September 20 Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Stacey’s mother Maria Irizazrry had moved there to be near her brother, and days passed before Stacey heard that she was all right. A month later the small town of Hatillo was still in darkness. Mosquitos were breeding in stagnant pools of water. FEMA and Red Cross relief had largely ignored the area.

Stacey saw an opportunity for direct, grass-roots action. Friends were asking how they could help. She had heard that Amazon was just beginning to deliver with reliability to Hatillo. She posted an Amazon Wish List and updated it regularly.

By November 15 Stacey’s mother could distribute in her neighborhood 30 bottles of mosquito repellant, 900 repellant sticks, 20 mosquito dunks, eight mosquito nets, ten solar lanterns, five headlamps, 180 alkaline batteries, generator spark plugs, a portable car jump starter, packs of hygienic wipes, cash gift cards, and more. The recovery continues.

Challenge as a Woman

A term increasingly recognized these days is “micro-aggression”: a statement, action or incident that is often very subtle and even unintentional discrimination against marginalized groups, whether an ethnic or religious minority or a gender or a socio-economic class. Stacey is aware of these subtleties. There appears to be some link between credibility and privilege, some assumptions about what one might or might not be able to offer. When one is on the receiving end of attitudes and utterances, the person might think “Is this real? Am I imagining this? Did I hear that?” And yes, there can be implicit bias in action. Stacey says, “I hope I may inspire and give confidence to another woman to be involved and engaged in civic life.”

Influential Women

First and foremost is Stacey’s mother Maria. She has had an incredible journey through poverty; a husband who died at the age of 42 from HIV/AIDS complications related to drug and alcohol addiction; raising children and working to provide for them. Stacey felt her mother’s full support through her own journey. Her mother gave her the confidence and the trust to grow into independence and success.

Stacey also mentioned former First Lady Michelle Obama, who was subjected to continual overt criticism. Obama still managed to smile, be gracious, persevere, and accomplish so much in her support of education, fitness, and healthy dietary guidelines.

Advice

“We need everyone’s opinion; we need each of us to be heard; every resident matters! Joining a committee, a board, a campaign will be gratifying, rewarding, and fun. Participate and become visible.”