Remembering “Mr. Abe”
Swearer Center staff and community members are mourning a true community champion, Abelardo “Mr. Abe” Hernández, who passed away on Saturday, January 30, 2021. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and all those who have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic. A longtime resident leader in Olneyville, Abe served as a program aide at the Swearer Center from 2011-2019, mentoring hundreds of college and elementary school students through the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring Program (BEAM) at the William D’Abate Elementary School.
“Mr. Abe was integral to the Swearer Center partnership at D'Abate,” said Betsy Shimberg, Interim Director of the Swearer Center. “He guided dozens of Brown students every year both on-campus at Swearer Center workshops and during programming at D’Abate. Abe brought encouragement, enthusiasm, and a firm belief in the power of community to every interaction. His passing is a deep loss for many of us.”
BEAM tutor, Sarah Koppelman ‘21, recalled the impact Abe had on her and other students, writing, “Mr. Abe exhibited his genuine love for his students, Brown volunteers, his William D’Abate colleagues, and the Olneyville community every day. He put a smile on all of our faces and was always there to help with anything, anytime. Mr. Abe was there to support us each time we visited William D’Abate, he made us laugh with his unrelenting sense of humor, and most importantly, he left a profound impact on Brown students by teaching us what it means to be a valuable community member. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will be carried on in the hundreds of elementary and Brown students who he impacted and inspired.”
“Not a lot of people in this world give themselves fully, without any questions asked,” reflected his longtime Swearer Center colleague and friend, Dilania Inoa, “but Abe did. In all the years I worked with him I could count on Abe for anything. He loved helping others and working with others. He did so much to bring people together and was always willing to pitch in to do whatever was needed.”
As an unofficial ambassador to his beloved Olneyville community, Abe led walking tours for Brown University students and community members in order to provide context to the work of community engagement. His tours invited dialogue, helped build social consciousness and critical understanding, and developed students’ appreciation for the people and organizations that have helped build and sustain Olneyville throughout its rich history. In 2017, through the Providence Health Equity Zone (HEZ), Abe was presented with the “Unsung Hero Award” by Inoa, to recognize and thank him for his “valuable neighborhood contributions and exceptional community work.”
“He is going to leave a legacy of love, service, and compassion behind,” Inoa remarked. “One of the most important things he taught me was to focus not only on my work, but on my family. He loved spending time with his family and he cherished every moment of his life. If his mission was to live his life to the fullest and give everything he had to those he loved, he can rest easy now, knowing he completed it.”
From his love of soccer to his work with youth, Abe’s lasting impact on the Olneyville community, BEAM and D’Abate students, and Swearer Center staff cannot be overstated. Our hearts are with his family, friends, and community in this difficult time. Following in Abe’s footsteps, we will always remember to have fun, live in the moment, eat great food together, and invest ourselves fully in our loved ones and our community.