Virginia Nunes Gutierrez

A nonprofit leader proves that kindness can bring change.

When Virginia Nunes Gutierrez and her sister, Victoria Calderon, opened Bottoms Up Coffee Co-Op in 2016 in Franklinton, their plan was to serve more than just coffee. “We wanted to serve the community and help drive economic development in Franklinton and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Gutierrez said.

With that in mind, the sisters decided Bottoms Up would support organizations that worked to improve infant mortality rates.

“We put out one cup where people could donate their change and dollars to buy diapers for mothers in Franklinton,” Gutierrez said. “And people really responded.”

In the past 2.5 years, Bottoms Up has donated more than 15,000 diapers to needy families in Franklinton and the surrounding community, she said. “You may not be able to change the world by yourself, but you have the power to impact the life of one person just by simple acts of kindness and empathy,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez, 32, said she learned from personal experience how small acts of kindness can make a difference. A native of Venezuela, Gutierrez’s family immigrated to Pennsylvania when she was 2 but returned to Venezuela when she was 12.

“We had to leave before we were deported,” she said of the return trip. “I didn’t know I had lived here all those years undocumented.”

In Venezuela, her parents divorced, and her family faced difficulties in a country coping with political and economic turmoil. “There weren’t homeless shelters or food pantries in Venezuela,” she said. “We got by because of the sacrifices my mother made and because of the assistance we received from family members and people we hardly knew.”

Gutierrez and her family earned legal status to return to the United States, and she came to Columbus in 2011, becoming a program officer and community health worker for the Ohio Hispanic Coalition and community health coordinator for the Mount Carmel Health System. Gutierrez later became an instructor in the Community Health Worker Training Program at the Ohio State University College of Nursing.

In 2017, she co-founded Avanza Together and serves as executive director for the nonprofit, which assists immigrant families in Central Ohio who are at risk for deportation. “Our mission is to link them to the resources and information they need and to help ensure that families can stay together,” Gutierrez said. 

That mission involves raising funds to pay attorney fees, providing transportation to immigration hearings in Cleveland and helping families digitize their documentation. The community projects she has done through Bottoms Up and Avanza Together have been aided by “so many angels,” she said.

When Gutierrez and her sister sold Bottoms Up in 2018 to Joshua and Meghan Boone, the couple not only agreed to continue the diaper drive, but expanded the effort.

In 2019, the coffee shop partnered with the Little Bottom Free Store, a ministry of Central City United Methodist Church, as the store’s diaper supplier. The free store, open Thursdays and Saturdays at West Park United Methodist Church, offers diapers, wipes and baby clothes. Bottoms Up also has selected the Columbus Diaper Bank as a recipient of its diapers.

The partnerships “help us reach even more people with our diaper project,” Joshua Boone said. He and his wife didn’t give a second thought about continuing the diaper drive, he said.

“The thing you notice about Virginia is that when she sees a problem, she takes the initiative to fight it deeply and passionately,” Boone said. “She’s not one to stand idly by. She is active.”

It’s not an accident that so many people have joined the projects Gutierrez has helped start, he said. “She’s such a good person and a real leader,” Boone said. “You can’t help but be inspired by her.”