Norah Venegas Interview

Series, Venegas_Norah_Int
Part of: CENTRO: 100 Puerto Ricans Oral History Project, 2013- > Norah Venegas Interview


 NORAH VENEGAS was born on January 25, 1942 in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican mother and a father from the Canary Islands. Her mother contracted tuberculosis after giving birth, so baby Norah was separated from her almost from the onset; the mother passed away before the baby’s second birthday. Her father, a merchant marine, wanted to care for her, but the social worker assigned to her case did not believe this would be in the child’s best interest, due to his frequent long stints at sea. As a result, the baby had to be placed in foster care. These unfortunate events turned out to be blessings in disguise since baby Norah was almost immediately adopted by a childless couple in search of a daughter. Her adoptive mother, Carmen Cordero, a homemaker originally from the city of Ponce, and her father, Gilberto Venegas from Guayama, a sales representative for the sugar cane industry, raised her as their own with plenty of love and affection.
Although Norah did not have immediate siblings, both her biological parents had children from previous relations who have graced her with a number of nieces and nephews, and with whom she has enjoyed a fruitful relationship.
As a child her family moved frequently around the San Juan Capital District, until they bought a home and settled permanently in the city of Isla Verde, where she remained throughout her teenage years.
After graduating from High School with excellent grades, Norah enrolled in the School of Medicine of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in May of 1964 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical and Occupational Therapy. Two months later, Norah lands her first job as Staff Occupational Therapist at the Rehabilitation Center, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation of the Department of Education, and is assigned Student Programmer Supervisor.
After two years in the Rehabilitation Center, Ms. Venegas is offered a position at the Pediatric Center, Division of Maternal and Children Welfare of the Health Department where she evaluates and treats children with neurological and orthopedic conditions. As customary, Ms. Venegas excels in her position and is assigned to develop student programs and supervise Occupational Therapy interns from the University of Puerto Rico School of Physical and Occupational Therapy.
As in most countries in the late 1960s, work opportunities and conditions in Puerto Rico were dismal. Though satisfied with her duties and accomplishments up to this point, Ms. Venegas was forced to seek greater financial rewards for her work. She decides to leave for the United States in 1967 to try her luck. Her gamble pays off immediately; she is hired as a Staff Physical Therapist at the Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach, Florida, where she is to treat in and out-patients for neurological, orthopedic and cardiac conditions.
In 1968 an opportunity arises for her to take charge of the organization, direction and supervision of the Occupational and Functional Training Departments of the Easter Seal Society of Dade County, Florida. As Chief Functional and O.T. Training Department Program Supervisor, Ms. Venegas is in charge of overseeing Therapy students hailing from different universities, as well as evaluating and treating all patients assigned to both the Physical and Occupational Departments.
Ms. Venegas works at the Easter Seal Society for eight years. During her tenure at the Society, with the increasing Spanish-speaking population, Norah witnesses a simultaneous surge in the demand for
bilingual service providers. Being a fiercely independent woman, Venegas decides to leave her post at the Easter Seal Society to branch out on her own, and begins to offer consultation and therapy service contracts to hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, initiating and establishing offices offering therapeutic services, as well as, training other therapists in the Miami-Dade area. This intrepid move resulted in the founding of over 15 offices all across South Florida. Norah Venegas not only made much need services available to a largely ignored population with limited resources and treatment options, her vision and actions also provided job opportunities to a substantial number of émigré Latino professionals who otherwise probably would not have been able to find employment at the time.
Ms. Venegas however, has not only excelled in the Physical and Occupational Therapy field; she also has dedicated much of her life to the empowerment of Puerto Ricans, and Puerto Rican women in particular. In the late 1970s, Venegas met and was inspired by the Puerto Rican community activist, founder of several Latino organizations, Alicia Baro. Having been inspired by, and worked beside, Baro for a number of years, Venegas set out to established organizations on her own. Since 1977, she has founded or been an active member of numerous organizations. She has been an active member of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women (NACOPRW) in which she has served as National Treasurer, Vice President, Treasurer, Delegate and Chapter President. She was founding member, and currently on the board of the Puerto Rico Cultural Center of South Florida in 1999, through which she has organized many cultural events. Also in 1999, she joined the Puerto Rico Festival Committee and the Puerto Rican Professional Association. In addition, since 1970 to the present, Ms. Venegas has served as treasurer for the Puerto Rican Democrats Organization, become a member of the Puerto Rican Professional Association, Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Dade County, and American Association of University Women, among others.
For her outstanding accomplishments, Ms. Venegas has been the recipient of numerous awards, among which are the Distinguished Service Award, Women of Achievement Award, Women of Impact Award, the Alicia Baro Achievement Award, and most recently, in 2013, recognized as one of the 100 Influential Puerto Ricans by the Centro for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York, Hunter College.

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