In the heart of Gwinnett County, amidst the vibrant tapestry of diverse commerce and culture, is a remarkable individual whose life embodies the essence of the American Dream. Soraia Santos Felgenhauer, a beacon of inspiration and resilience, has lived a path to success with an unwavering commitment to service.

Born and raised in the northern part of Brazil, Soraia was the daughter of an engineer and a schoolteacher. Growing up a devoted Baptist, she was very involved in her church and held several leadership roles as a teenager. Soraia studied foreign languages during her first year of college in Brazil and dreamt of moving to the United States to study and learn English. Her mother was hesitant, as she had no family in the States, and US tuition is very expensive.

At a Baptist Conference in Brazil, Soraia met a professor from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and expressed her desire to attend university in the States. She and the woman kept in touch, and the woman helped Soraia receive an academic scholarship.  Soraia embarked on her journey to the United States at the age of 20, driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. She initially pursued a major in pre-med with an aspiration to heal and uplift children in need. However, confronted by the hurdles of medical school expenses and linguistic challenges, Soraia pivoted towards psychology and social work, recognizing it as a pathway better aligned with her aspirations.

Because Soraia was the only Brazilian at her university, she became close with her academic advisor at Southwest Baptist, an Argentinean man. He helped her acclimate to living in the United States. Because her native language was Portuguese, he recommended she enroll in several Spanish courses to ease her transition into learning English and American schooling. She graduated with a degree in psychology and counseling and minored in Spanish.

After graduating, Soraia moved to Henry County, Georgia, where she embarked on a new chapter of her life, working as a probation officer and later as a school counselor. Through her work in social service, she worked closely with the Hispanic community in Henry County, utilizing her Spanish skills. Subsequently, Soraia moved several times, calling Denver home for a decade where she dedicated herself to advocating for neglected children through her work with the Department of Human Services. While in Denver, Soraia received a master’s degree in school counseling and continued studying how to support teachers and other stakeholders within the system, which led her to finish her Specialist Degree in School Administration.

Despite the geographical changes, Soraia’s commitment to serving her community remained steadfast. A brief stay in her native Brazil served as a poignant reunion with her roots before she moved back to the States, settling in Athens, Georgia. She worked as a school counselor, then later became an assistant principal and family/community engagement liaison for the Oconee School District in Clarke County. Through her efforts there, Soraia helped open the first family center in Oconee.

Soraia states, “I have always been drawn to people. I love getting to work with young people to discover their gifts, developing them, and in turn, helping them serve their own communities.”

For a decade, Soraia lent her expertise and compassionate guidance to the administration division, leaving an indelible mark on the lives she touched. In 2023, an opportunity with the Gwinnett County School System was presented and she assumed the pivotal role of Director of Community Schools. Here, amidst the thriving mosaic of diversity that defines Gwinnett County, Soraia found her true calling – a platform to amplify the voices of the marginalized, championing inclusivity and fostering unity within her community.

Through her work in Gwinnett County, Soraia was connected with the Gateway85 Coalition, a program of the Gateway85 CID that is an extension of the CID’s responsibility to ensure its businesses and residents prosper. The Coalition unites different service providers throughout Gwinnett with members of the community seeking those services. Currently, the Coalition’s work is focused on servicing the Latino population within the CID’s zone.

As a testament to the spirit of the American Dream, Soraia Santos Felgenhauer’s journey embodies resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to service. Her story reminds us of the boundless opportunities that flourish with the foreign-born living and working within the Gateway85 area of Gwinnett County. With a rapidly growing Latino population, Soraia is creating a more inclusive future for all who call Gwinnett County home.