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Erica Acosta of Wilkes University -- Why NEPA? image
November 21, 2023
Erica Acosta of Wilkes University -- Why NEPA?
Jonathan Davies

“NEPA Chose Me.”

Erica Acosta found her way to NEPA via a long, circuitous route starting in Brooklyn, N.Y. She grew up in an almost all-girl household. Her grandpa, outnumbered and staunchly overprotective, instilled a service-based, community-first mindset. And that’s precisely where Erica’s passion for culture and community were born.

Young, idealistic Erica was proud of her “Bi-cultural – American/Dominican-East New Yorker” experience. But high school graduation came and went leaving her pining for something more. So, the first-gen college student set off for SUNY Buffalo. She finished with a BA in Spanish, but not before spending a little time abroad in Spain.

From there, an aunt with a plan (and a few local connections) convinced her to spend some time in NEPA. That was in 2008, and for the last 15 years Erica has thrived. She’s since created the Office of Multicultural Education at Misericordia University, met and married the man of her dreams, welcomed two beautiful girls and she currently chairs the Wilkes-Barre Multicultural Parade. Oh, she’s also been Wilkes University’s Director of Diversity Initiatives for the last 12 years.

We caught up with Erica at her office on South Franklin St. in Downtown Wilkes-Barre. She talked a mile-a-minute about her hopes and dreams for NEPA, and in between stories and her infectious laugh, we squeezed in a few questions — notably Why NEPA?


How long have you lived in NEPA?

I’ve been here 15 years, from 2008 to the present.

What do you love about your town?

I lived in Wilkes-Barre and now I live in Forty Fort, and what I like most about both has been my neighbors. Having neighbors that look out for each other. If there is something going on, they will call. They will let you know. That sense of community is real. And it’s there whether you’ve been here forever, or you just landed in that spot. Your neighbors are like, “Ok, here’s what you need to do. Here’s where your kids can go and play. Here’s the school and these are all of our events.” I really like that aspect of it.

What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?

Anybody who knows me, knows I love Margarita Azul. Every year, I celebrate my birthday there. Roy is like, “Erica, again! Another birthday!” I can’t help it. I just love it there. I love the food. I love the ambiance. I went there all the time even when it was a smaller place. And now it’s bigger and more beautiful. I was there for that whole transformation. I’ve seen all the growth. The owners – they’re like family now. We’re on a first-name basis (laughs). I just love being there. I love going to a restaurant where they know my name. They know what I like. You know? I like that.

What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?

My favorite thing to do, when the Wilkes-Barre Multicultural Parade is not going on, is walking the Forty Fort Levee. I love watching the airplanes landing and taking off at the airport. I love the scenery.

Our other tradition that started when my first daughter was a newborn we got a fresh Christmas tree. Growing up in New York, we never had a fresh tree. Now every year, we go up to Beezup Tree Farm and we pick it out and we cut it down ourselves. I still remember experiencing that for the first time. And now it’s a thing (laughs)!

What’s next for you?

I want to keep working within the community. So, I’m a board member and I’m also a chair for the Diversity Council through the Chamber. I’m very active in that and I plan to stay very active with that organization. And I also want to help my husband grow his chimney business. Well, he always says it’s OUR business and I’m like, “You’re the one up on the roof. You know I’m not goin’ up on no roof (laughs)!” That’s basically what’s next for us.

Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?

We’re definitely growing really fast now. I feel like there’s been a boom. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more involved in the community and being more mindful of it now, but I see it growing in so many ways. I’ll go to a restaurant and hear so many different languages. You can hear the conversations in Spanish and English and you can pick up the different dialects, but you’ll also hear someone speaking Swahili. You hear it when you go out shopping. You can see it. You can see all the different people. And I love that. And with that kind of growth, we’re going to see more change. I think we’re seeing NEPA come to embrace that, in its own way. And I can see a NEPA where we’re welcoming all of these wonderful transplants who want to live here and work here and raise their families here.


NEPA chose me. You know what I mean? I didn’t know about NEPA back then. I think NEPA was like, “We need you here (laughs).” I believe I was destined to be here. I just didn’t know how, but I really do feel like this place chose me. As much as I was always thinking about going back to New York to visit friends, or to New Jersey, because that’s where our families are from, somehow, I came to feel grounded here. I believe in signs like that. That’s why I feel that NEPA chose me. I just decided that I had to embrace it. I feel loved here. I feel that sense of community. And here at Wilkes University, I’ve been here for 12 years — the mentorship you get from the administration and all of my colleagues, working with the students and getting to know their families, even though they leave me every four years, that connection makes me want to stay forever. And now it’s got me thinking, “What more can I do? How can I continue to help my community?”