Mirror’s Hometown Hero of the Year: Jaqueline Garcia Castillo

Castillo is the director and founder of Mujer Al Volante, a non-profit that provides driving instruction for women who are refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers.

The annual Hometown Hero award is given to an individual who dedicates an outstanding service to Federal Way and its community.

Every month for the past year, the Mirror has shared stories of remarkable people, each with their own tie to, or purpose found in, Federal Way.

As the rest of the 2024 Best of Federal Way category winners were voted on by the community, the Hometown Hero award is selected by Mirror staff members.

This year’s Hometown Hero of the Year is Jaqueline Garcia Castillo, executive director and founder of Mujer Al Volante, a nonprofit in Federal Way that provides driving instruction for women who are refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. The organization recently celebrated 10 years of service in Federal Way.

About 14 years ago, Garcia Castillo moved to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, where she was a dentist. She started Mujer Al Volante after she had encountered several barriers of her own while living in the U.S., including the process of acquiring her driver’s license.

The organization now has a permanent home in Federal Way, but for many years, they held class wherever they could. At one point she taught 30-40 women in the hallway of a church. Overall they have had 900-plus women go through the program.

Garcia Castillo’s work started out of her own desire for community and education of herself. When she became pregnant, she realized that as a woman of color who is low-income, she was more vulnerable to a system that would push her to have a C-section. She wanted a home birth and wanted to educate herself on breast-feeding, attachment style parenting, nutrition and more.

The only problem: she couldn’t find any resources in Spanish or geared toward her community.

She started holding women’s groups in her apartment around 2012. The more she built the community of mothers, the more she started to see that lack of driver’s licenses was a huge problem in her community. Many of the other women were like her, where they had driven in their home country, but had not been able to attain their driver’s license here. Others had never had the opportunity to drive at all or faced other barriers around literacy or confidence.

Garcia Castillo learned how to start a nonprofit the same way she learned about parenting — by seeking out information, asking questions and sharing her new knowledge with others as she learned.

Program Manager Veronica Semillo told The Mirror that she hears from women in the program how much it has helped their self-esteem. Recalling one recent student, she said that “even though in her country she was studying to become a lawyer, she had to leave everything behind to come to this country, and start anew” and that “having the ability to being in a community” as she took the classes really helped.

“I feel like, wow, this program is making such a difference, not only in the actual aspect of getting their license,” Semillo said. The aspect of confidence and self-esteem can spread and “that women will help other women or help even her own children.”

More languages have become available and are now offered by the organization, including Ukrainian, Punjabi, Urdu, Somali, Kurdish, Khmer, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Spanish, French and English.

Jaqueline Garcia Castillo

Jaqueline Garcia Castillo