DETROIT — Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez’s childhood experiences shaped her adult life.
When Orozco-Vasquez was an infant, she and her family moved to the United States from Mexico. They lived in California until Orozco-Vasquez was 5 years old before relocating to southwest Detroit.
Orozco-Vasquez said as part of an immigrant family in a new community, she often faced precocious challenges.
“I remember so many times that my mother didn’t have any support or anywhere to run to in the community,” Orozco-Vasquez said. “I remember that I was the one translating for my mother, calling DTE or helping with this or that.”
So for Orozco-Vasquez, helping others “who are very much like” her family is a fulfilling part of her current role as chief executive director of Freedom House Detroit, a non-profit organization that provides community housing and supportive services to refugees.
Orozco-Vasquez is the first Game Changers honoree who the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank are recognizing as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“In collaboration with Comerica Bank, the Game Changers series at its core is about elevating the stories and work of incredible people supporting our community,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Through her work with Freedom House Detroit, Elizabeth is ensuring Detroit continues to be a welcoming place for all.”
Founded in 1983, Freedom House Detroit is Michigan’s only full-service provider for refugees. Orozco-Vasquez estimates that at least 125 individuals annually receive aid from the non-profit.
“People don’t realize those services are not out there for them,” said Orozco-Vasquez, who also served on the board of Freedom House from 2012-17. “These are not undocumented individuals, but they’re not given that chance or access for any resources. This is a service that is absolutely needed.”
While helping others at their time of greatest need is rewarding, Orozco-Vasquez said understanding why Freedom House’s clients seek help can be extremely challenging.
“A good 75 percent of our clients, if not more, are victims of torture,” she said. “We must hear their stories to best help them. We must navigate some of the trauma and sadness that comes along with that. Hearing those things day in and day out, this affects you in a way that you would not believe, and trying not to take that home with you becomes a huge challenge. But when you see them succeed, it gives you the strength and ability to come back the next day.”
Freedom House Detroit is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023. And as Orozco-Vasquez reflects on past achievements, she is also excited for the possibilities ahead.
“We’re actively working on expanding our building to be able to have more events with more people,” Orozco-Vasquez said. “We’re trying to add more services in the community. We want to be here another 40 years.”
Orozco-Vasquez said she is grateful to be part of the Game Changers series because the recognition will help highlight the important work being done by the Latinx community of Detroit.
“There are so many people out there who deserve recognition,” Orozco-Vasquez said. “I don’t think I saw myself among those people, but I truly appreciate it. I am humbled to be able to be recognized and bring Freedom House to the forefront. It is important because you don’t always get to have Latinos and Latinas being honored in this way. I am hoping others in my community can see that.”