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Erica Santiago, elected to the Board of Education in November 2017, also serves as the president of Momauguin School’s PTO and works with the Rotary Club. (Photo courtesy of Erica Santiago )
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Erika Santiago grew up in East Haven with a civic-minded family that has influenced her career and her life in town.
Her father, town councilman Joe Santino, was a big influence on her life.
“He’s always doing something to give back. He’s always been so vested in this town,” she says. “That’s how I grew up. That’s all I know.”
Every year, Erika, her father, and her sister take part in the Secret Santa Bike Giveaway her father started several years ago.
“He was looking for some way to give back,” she says.
For the giveaway, they collect money to purchase six bicycles to give away at a raffle during the tree lighting ceremony every year.
“They were looking for more people to come to the tree lighting,” she says. “We do it as a family.”
After high school, Erika says she took the technical school route, and then went straight into the job market, doing one thing or another. She eventually went to Eli Whitney Technical High School for certified nursing assistant courses, and took other courses through Yale.
She’s now working as a clinical technician at Yale Hospital.
She was elected to the Board of Education last November and currently serves as the chair of the PTO subcommittee. It was through the PTO that led Erika to the Board of Education, where she says she still has the unique perspective of a parent and PTO member.
“You work so close with the teachers and administrators and you’re in there so you see where you feel like you could help create change,” she says.
She became involved with the PTO when her children entered the school system, and remains the president of the PTO at Momauguin School.
“I enjoy it and I’m very, very lucky that [my husband Mariano] is so supportive,” she says.
When the East Haven chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America was looking for another way to help the community, Erika worked with the group on a school supplies drive.
“You want to get involved, you want to do more, so you look for ways to do it without being intrusive,” she says. “So it’s nice that the veterans wanted to do something.”
The veterans’ group, together with the support of local businesses, delivered 130 backpacks and school supplies to the school district.
“It’s a good way to fill up the schools a little bit,” Erika says.
Erika’s children, Jayla, John, and stepson Raphael, are growing up in East Haven like she did.
“Our family is vested in this town, so it just feels like second nature almost,” Erika says. “My kids are reaping the benefits of everything we do because they’re growing up in this school system.”
Jayla has also taken on the family’s civic nature—“My daughter is a huge giver,” Erika says.
Last year, Erika says, Jayla dedicated her seventh birthday to the East Haven Animal Shelter and bringing the animals supplies.
“It’s good to instill that in them so that they know,” says Erika.
Erika has also been working with the East Haven Rotary Club as part of her work in town. After just a year, she’s already invested in its projects. In the beginning, she says, she didn’t know what the Rotary did, but says she is glad to have found out.
“I feel like I’ve missed out, not being a part of the Rotary longer,” she says.
She enjoys events such as Breakfast with Santa and Breakfast with the Easter Bunny.
“It’s very family oriented,” she says. “Family is my life.”
Beyond those breakfasts, Erika enjoys the other charitable causes supported by the Rotary Club.
Lat year, Erika participated in last year’s Clothe the Children drive after the holiday season. Every year, the Rotary raises money to provide a list of children in need with $100 to spend on clothes at Kohl’s. Kohl’s even provides a 20 percent discount to stretch that money even further.
“We just want to see those kids come, shop, and just feel good,” Erika says.
Erika tells the story of a girl who last year came up to the volunteers to tell them how happy she was with her new pair of Nikes.
“For us it was great, because it was reaping the benefit of collecting those donations and all the work that goes into that event,” she says.
Last year, the Rotary Club’s Clothe the Children drive was able to help 90 children and Erika hopes the club will be provided with more children to help and more funds this year.
For more information on the East Haven Rotary Club, visit www.easthavenrotary.org.
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