How does your faith inspire your work?
I feel like my faith really grounds me. I tell my kids that (attending Sunday Mass) is my sanctuary. It’s this peaceful hour of being able to listen to the readings and the Gospel, and reflecting on your past week or what you can take from the readings to move you forward. I also believe everything goes back to servant leadership and reminds me of how there’s a bigger purpose. I believe God puts you in the positions that he thinks your abilities are going to be able to enhance or empower others.
How have your own educational experience — attending both Bruce Guadalupe Middle School and SJA — shaped how you serve your community today?
I attended Bruce Guadalupe Middle School when it was a private school operated by the nuns located near the Cathedral. I really do believe that the education I received at both were crucial to my success later in life. My parents emigrated here from Mexico and they always taught us God first, then parents, then teachers. For me, my education and upbringing in the Church and family structure really taught me to recognize how I inspire others in the community and show them what is possible through education and hard work.
What would you say are the benefits of Catholic education?
If you look at our Catholic faith, education is always the lens of opportunity and how we help people become individual thinkers. I believe education is really about teaching a person how to fish versus giving a person a fish.
How did your Catholic education help you?
My faith-based schooling taught me how to believe in myself, (and) how to become successful and overcome any challenges. The sisters at my school did not take no for an excuse. For example, if you said, “I don’t know where I’m going to college,” they would tell you, you have until Friday to pick three universities that you’re attending and we’re going to get those essays done. For me, no is not in my vocabulary. If there is a barrier, I ask how do we get around it. No just means you have to come up with a new solution. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
What do you hope to model through your leadership?
As the first Hispanic woman to lead this organization, it is critical for those we serve, especially the many Hispanic children, to see that there are successful adults that look like them. I also hope to share that it’s OK to ask for help. It is a give and take, and we need to be able to believe in one another and help each other out.
Why is quality education so vital?
Education is my biggest passion because I think that quality education is what brings about opportunity and it is the means to rise out of poverty.
What is unique about the United Community Center and the need it serves?
UCC is unique because it is a multi-generational organization in which we currently serve individuals from six weeks to 106. Also, we aim to be affordable to the community so, for example, with our early childhood education, we always want to make sure the program is affordable for the families we serve. I have seen first-hand how this organization has served the community, as they helped my family and my parents.
What is it like coming back?
When I was growing up, UCC was called “The Spot” and now it’s been open for more than 50 years. It was really weird coming back. When I grew up and came back and saw that the UCC is no longer the small agency I attended when I was a teenager, it was shocking. A little bit of personal trivia: the first job I ever had was here.
How has the UCC served you personally?
I came to the UCC as a child and my mom attended English classes. My brother took boxing lessons, and my sisters and I participated in folkloric dancing. It was a big support system for all of us in the community. As a child, I learned that if my parents didn’t know the answer they’d come and ask the UCC. If the UCC didn’t know the answer, they would find the answer. They helped take care of the community.
What do you hope it does for others?
What I want people to know about UCC is that we are a trusted and reliable resource for the community. It is important for the community to understand that we’re here without any judgment. We hope to make our community stronger and work to understand how we can help remove barriers for everyone to succeed and achieve their dreams.