TAMPA — With Hispanics now accounting for more than one in four of its residents, the city of Tampa has created a new position aimed at providing a link between the Hispanic community and city leaders.
Maribel Garrett, a familiar face in the Hispanic community through her work on student success at Hillsborough Community College, started this month as the city’s community engagement coordinator and Hispanic liaison.
Garett, 52, a wife and mother of three daughters who was born in Puerto Rico, says she aims to serve chiefly as a communicator.
“This position gives me that opportunity to connect with people and listen to what the needs are, what they are looking for and how we can improve the life of our residents,” Garrett said.
The job description: Serve as a direct resource for the city’s growing Hispanic population, attend meetings with Hispanic community leaders and residents, reach out to residents in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, and serve as personal contact for community leaders and businesses in the Hispanic community.
Garrett also serves on the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council. Her new job pays $85,000 a year.
Tampa’s population of 385,000 is 26 percent Hispanic, according to the 2020 Census. Hillsborough County, where 30 percent of the population of 1.46 million is Hispanic, also has a Hispanic liaison on staff.
Mayor Jane Castor introduced Garrett this month at the first of her planned Cafe Con Castor events, this one held at the iconic Cuban restaurant Arco Iris in West Tampa.
“We are in the process of listening and exchanging ideas,” Garrett said.
Garrett calls education and community service her passion, instilled in her at a young age by her parents as she was growing up in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan.
She received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico and worked for a time for a local school. In 1992 she moved to Florida to attend the University of South Florida and received a master’s degree there.
Then, she met her husband, Ron Garrett, 55, who also is from Puerto Rico. They have been married 26 years. Their daughters are Lillian, 22; Carla, 19; and Giselle, 11.
Hiring Garrett affirms Castor’s commitment to help lift all the city’s neighborhoods, including largely Hispanic areas such as West Tampa and the Ybor City area, said Janelle McGregor, her supervisor as director of community engagement in the city’s Neighborhood & Community Affairs Department.
Garrett started her career as an administrator at HCC in March 2002. During her 16 years with the college, HCC consolidated its efforts to help new students stay in school and succeed and to provide guidance in both English and Spanish for students and their parents.
She left in 2018 to work as director of admissions for Corbett Preparatory School in north Tampa, a position she held until last year.
Garrett and her husband have also worked with the Sant’ Yago Education Foundation, which has granted more than $3 million in scholarships to Hispanic students during the past 25 years. She serves as president of Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. and was vice president of the Tampa Hispanic Advisory Council from 2017 to 2019.
Both organizations raise money for scholarships to send Hispanic students to the University of South Florida, HCC, and the University of Tampa.
Marco Villarreal, a board member with Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc., said Garrett has always demonstrated a genuine commitment to helping others.
“Maribel is as genuine as you can get,” Villarreal said. “Whether you work with her professionally, interact with her in the community, or are lucky to call her a friend, she is always happy to see you, ask how you’re doing, and ready to share a smile”.
Maria Bermudez-Torres, student enrollment coordinator at HCC, said the Hispanic community has long benefited from Garrett’s commitment.
“Working hand in hand with Maribel in higher education and community organizations has been a pleasure”, Bermudez-Torres said. “If you wish and need someone to be in your corner, you would want it to be Maribel.”