Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 16, 2013

Traverse City woman to receive humanitarian award

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Gladys Muñoz learned about service to others as a child when she helped at a free clinic in Puerto Rico where her parents volunteered their time on weekends.

Muñoz, a teacher by training, went from stocking shelves in a clinic to helping migrant workers with a variety of needs and handling medical translations for Spanish-speaking people. The Traverse City Human Rights Commission on Monday will honor Muñoz for her lifetime of service when they present her the Sara Hardy Humanitarian Award.

“She does everything she can to make life better for those who need it,” said Theresa Gardner, commission chairwoman. “The agencies she works with can’t speak highly enough about her; she goes over and above and does a lot of work on her own time.”

Joe Bullis and Valerie Kirn-Duensing of the Women’s Resource Center nominated Muñoz.

“Gladys is constantly in a state of service,” they wrote in their nomination letter. “From the moment she wakes up, she is either helping someone or she is on the phone helping someone who is in need.”

Muñoz assists the women’s center when Spanish-speaking women are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“The victims ... are vulnerable when they get here, and for people who don’t speak English, it can make it even more terrifying,” Bullis said. “She is just very good at working with our advocates who are guiding people through the process and allowing us to provide support that is culturally appropriate.”

Muñoz moved to Traverse City 26 years ago at the invitation of her sister and started teaching with the Michigan Migrant Project. She later taught and became principal of Holy Rosary School, worked as a pastoral associate, and helped the Diocese of Gaylord organize its Spanish ministry.

“I have always worked with the Catholic Church, with the migrant community,” Muñoz said. “But my main thing is medical interpretation.”

Muñoz received special training to do oral medical interpretation and acts as a bridge between doctors and patients. She started at a migrant clinic, but is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She provides services to private doctors, Munson Medical Center, and other agencies to assist Spanish speakers who live in or are visiting the area from another country.

“You have to understand the different cultures, not just the ethnic culture but the medical culture,” she said. “Sometimes our people are better served because they have someone with them (more so) than those who understand the language but not how to navigate the medical system.”

Muñoz, whose father is a pediatric cardiologist and her mother a dietitian, advises all patients to take someone with them for medical visits.

“Many times you are in stress and not paying attention to all the things, so it is always good to have someone with you,” she said.

The Sara Hardy Humanitarian award caught Muñoz off-guard.

“There are a lot of people doing a lot of good work in town, so I was surprised,” Muñoz said. “For me to receive something like this, it is not just me; I represent the Hispanic community at large, so it’s an honor for the community.”

The Human Rights Commission will host a reception Monday at 6 p.m. in the second floor training room of the Governmental Center. The award presentation will take place at 7 p.m. in the commission chambers at the start of the city commission meeting.