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A Journey of Connection and Community

Ethan Watters | December 19, 2023


Longtime Austin community educator and advocate Gema Alvarado-Guerrero leads the charge within Hormel Foods as workforce wellness facilitator.

The support that Gema Alvarado-Guerrero provides for the remarkably diverse workforce at the Hormel Foods flagship production facility is rarely one-size-fits-all. Every team member has a unique set of life circumstances. Before she coaches anyone through benefits, retirement plans or community services, she begins by listening. Only when she has a clear picture of their story does she begin to offer assistance.

As the company’s new workforce wellness facilitator, Alvarado-Guerrero is at the Austin facility each week offering services and information. She often starts early and stays late to make sure she’s available to team members on each shift. By offering a wide range of resources and an open-door policy, Gema’s goal is to foster a strong sense of belonging both within the workplace and in the wider community.

“Establishing a connection with our team members is key. Being accessible on a one-to-one basis is a fundamental component of building trust,” Alvarado-Guerrero says. “My job is to ensure that everyone feels like they have a home. We want to make sure that people feel like they’re being taken care of. That means getting a holistic understanding of their family and their needs.”

HFSP Community Action Planning Event at Hormel Foods HQ - April 2023

HFSP Community Action Planning Event at Hormel Foods HQ – April 2023

Most of the team members she meets are eager to understand the benefits Hormel Foods offers, including health care, wellness programs, educational opportunities, family leave policies and retirement plans. This spring, team members will also have access to a new childcare facility, which will support working parents in balancing their professional and personal responsibilities.

Beyond those benefits, Alvarado-Guerrero helps team members connect with a wide variety of other services offered by Hormel Foods. These include programs that focus on mental health, food access, physical fitness and educational opportunities for the whole family. In addition, she facilitates access to a wide variety of programs offered by community organizations, many of which are themselves supported by the company and the Hormel Foundation.

Mental and Physical Health Is Key

For Alvarado-Guerrero, physical and mental health services are the most critical. Any team member on the company’s insurance and their dependents can access Hormel Health Center free of charge. The 4,500-square-foot clinic, which opened in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, offers a full spectrum of services from physical therapy to lab work.

Alvarado-Guerrero is also passionate about the educational opportunities available for both team members and their families. She is closely connected with Riverland Community College where she was once a student and is now an adjunct professor. “Education is a priority for me and my family,” she says. “I know from personal experience how life-changing educational opportunities can be.”

Before joining Hormel Foods, Alvarado-Guerrero held various roles in Austin, all dedicated to educating and supporting community members. Her work at Austin Aspires, Riverland Community College, the Parenting Resource Center, Austin Public Schools and as a board member of the Hormel Foundation has given her a deep understanding of the needs and the resources available in the Austin community. Her involvement with high school students has particularly shaped her perspective on the importance of early intervention and guidance in setting the stage for a brighter future.

I have learned a lot from Gema, each story she tells me helps me understand the barriers and challenges our team members face and gives us insights into how we can continue to support them.

Amy Sheehan, Director of Talent Acquisition at Hormel Foods

Alvarado-Guerrero’s holistic approach to helping team members by providing access to both company and community resources is unique in the food industry. She sees the team members as individuals with roles and responsibilities in their families and the community. Her perspective is much like the company itself. After over 130 years as a main employer in Austin, Hormel Foods and The Hormel Foundation are deeply woven into the community fabric. She embodies the Hormel Foods commitment to creating understanding and building community connection.

Alvarado-Guerrero’s job is not unlike that of the Hormel Foods resident cultural anthropologist, Tanya Rodriguez, who spends time with team members and consumers of all backgrounds, gathering the sorts of insights that statistics and spreadsheets often miss. The key is understanding both team members and consumers through face-to-face interactions.

“Gema’s embodiment of the community spirit of Austin is a true asset for our company,” says Jim Snee, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Hormel Foods. “Her work improves the well-being of our team members by ensuring they have access to all opportunities for themselves and their families both within the company and in the community.”

The hometown food security team at Second Harvest Heartland

Gema Alvarado-Guerrero with other members of the Hometown Food Security Project on a visit to Second Harvest Heartland.

Alvarado-Guerrero’s work is already impacting the lives of her colleagues. Each week, she meets with Amy Sheehan, director of talent acquisition at Hormel Foods, and relates the stories of the people she’s helping. One week, it might be directing a mother to information about the vaccines her children need to register for school, the next, it’s helping a retiree understand how to access pension benefits.

“I have learned a lot from Gema,” Sheehan says. “Each story she tells me helps me understand the barriers and challenges our team members face and gives us insights into how we can continue to support them.”

When Passion Meets Purpose

Alvarado-Guerrero’s desire to help is inspired by her own family’s story. Raised in a family that weathered financial struggles and the difficulties of immigration, she knows how important it is to find support from within your community. Her parents, once field workers, moved from California to Minnesota in search of stability. Watching her mother support the family working at a food processing plant, Alvarado-Guerrero knows firsthand the physical and mental demands of such jobs.

“The team members I work with want stability and support when they need it,” she says. “I understand that feeling because stability is all I ever wanted for my family.”

Beyond the Company Walls

Another unique aspect to her job description is that Hormel Foods empowers her to work on behalf of the community, helping lead efforts and mobilizing resources to bridge the food security gap across Mower County. She dedicates a portion of her time serving as a key member of The Hometown Food Security Project, a collaborative effort spearheaded by Hormel Foods and United Way of Mower County, committed to alleviating hunger locally.

Hometown Food Security Project Unveils New Office Location in Downtown Austin

Hometown Food Security Project Unveils New Office Location in Downtown Austin

“Gema’s work inside our building and with the Hometown Food Security Project is laying the groundwork for her to develop a template for all of the communities where we have production facilities,” says Katie Larson, senior vice president of human resources. “I couldn’t be more excited to see what insights and recommendations she brings to further our evolution as a company that cares deeply about our people.”

Alongside coalition co-lead Molly Lanke, executive director of the United Way of Mower County, Alvarado-Guerrero provides logistics and technical support, coordinating with experts and community members alike. The role allows her to be boots on the ground within the community. She played a pivotal role in the opening of the new Hometown Food Security Project office in downtown Austin, which she staffs twice a week, helping community members understand what food-support resources are available to them. Through her efforts, Alvarado-Guerrero is laying the groundwork for a legacy of service and community.

This week Alvarado-Guerrero will be back at the production facility with her office door open. She won’t know what concern or question the next team member will want to discuss. She’ll begin, as always, by listening closely.