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Alumnus Builds Bridges Throughout York Community and Fosters Change

Headshot of Daysha Illarza

Daysha Illarza ’16, is a driving force behind diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in York County, having honed her focus on community at York College.

Since graduating from York College of Pennsylvania in 2016, Daysha Illarza has been making an impact throughout York County. In February 2024, her exceptional contributions to the community earned her the York County Economic Alliance Ignite Young Professional Award.

Illarza, a York City native, is Community Impact and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator at United Way of York County. While she loves dealing one-on-one in a traditional, micro-focused social work setting, Illarza’s goal is to work on a more macro level to bring about societal change.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Human Services at York College, she furthered her education at Widener University, earning a Master of Social Work degree.

“I studied clinical social work for my master’s. Before that I was doing casework in homes and schools. After graduating with my master’s, I knew I wanted to make a broader impact,” she says. “I like learning about the function of society and studying social problems.”

She found an outlet for her interests at United Way of York County.

Roots run deep

Illarza’s community involvement is grounded in her upbringing, and her passion for that work was instilled by her mother.

“My mom, she was really community- and people-minded,” Illarza says. “It was an extension of our faith. She wanted to keep us God-centered. We would go to McDonald’s, and she would buy sausage biscuits for all the homeless sitting there. It instilled in me that it’s easy to help people without needing acknowledgment.”

Around the holidays, Illarza’s mom would take her and her siblings to serve meals or volunteer at local organizations. They were continually encouraged to serve in a selfless, practical way.

Once she enrolled at York College, Illarza discovered a similar community-mindedness. Through her degree program, she was urged to do volunteer work. She began tutoring students in York City schools, which turned into a paid position. This was the foundation for her to continue to be deeply engaged in community initiatives.

Illarza wears many hats, serving as the Vice Chair of the York County Homeless Coalition, a member of the YWCA York’s Racial Justice Committee, and as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), serving at risk youth in the child welfare system. She also serves as Coordinator of the Confronting Racism Coalition and is deeply passionate about DEI. She is excited to shine a brighter light on the topic in York.

“We're bringing a lot of events to the community,” she says.

A large-scale effort

One such event is the State of Black Life in York summit on March 15, 2024, a daylong session featuring Black experts in the community and covering such topics as mental health, art, and economics.

In her career at United Way, Illarza quickly found her niche and was surprised how fast she has been able to excel and have a voice.

“In my role, I’m in a lot of rooms with higher-ups,” she says. “I have the space to speak my mind and share.”

Illarza envisions leading her own DEI initiatives in the community with a focus on ensuring fair and equitable access to resources, especially for people of color.

“At York College, be prepared to be community-minded and to have an impact on the community you live in,” she says. “These are transferable skills no matter what community you live in.”