Woodstock man wins Matthew Freeman Social Justice award

Helped bring cultural center to Chicago school

WOODSTOCK – A young man who adapted to language and cultural barriers as a boy in Woodstock has been recognized for his efforts to make it easier on others making similar transitions.

Rafael Castaneda, 22, was one of three honorees to receive the Matthew Freeman Social Justice award from Roosevelt University this spring, sharing honorable mention with another student. Castenada graduated from the school earlier this month.

“It’s a big honor,” Castaneda said. “Just to know that your work is being acknowledged by someone somewhere. Many times, you keep doing this, you keep speaking up, but with everything going on you might not see a change automatically.”

Castaneda received the award for his efforts to get a multicultural center put on campus, and for strengthening the school’s Latino studies and Spanish programs.

The multicultural center, Castaneda said, would provide a central location for groups of varying ethnic backgrounds to gather, whether to hold specific events or to spend time together between classes. He said the center would help with the school’s retention and recruitment rate of international students.

Students are currently scouting campus locations for the center and hope to get it going in the 2014-15 school year. Castaneda has stayed up on the process, but he’s more behind the scenes now that he’s back in Woodstock.

The Freeman award isn’t the first honor Castaneda has received. In 2012, the McHenry County Business Journal named him “best under 40.” He’s served on the McHenry County Community Foundation and volunteered with the Family Health Partnership Clinic.

He said those experiences have solidified his desire to give back to the community. But Castaneda credits his schooling for much of his involvement.

After arriving in Woodstock from Mexico City around age 3, he was thrust into a new environment at Westwood and Olson elementary schools.

“It kind of built that wall,” he said. “It’s kind of segregation to an extent, because you’re not really interacting with the other students.”

Castaneda said being put in a class with few other Hispanic students forced him to adapt and in many ways made him who he is. He got involved with students council, and continued to help during high school and college.

Now, Castaneda is preparing to move to Chicago to start a job with the Alzheimer’s Association. He has plans to go back to graduate school in the future, and to continue helping – drawing on a motto he learned from the FHPC.

“We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for someone,” he said.

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