In 2007, I participated in a leadership program called the “Multi-Ethnic Leadership Institute” (MELI) which was sponsored by Orange County United Way. Later, in 2009, I was invited by United Way to speak to the graduating 2009 MELI class. While cleaning out my computer desktop and going through old files, I came across the speech I wrote for that occasion. I wanted to share it with you because it allowed me to take time and reflect on why I am so passionate about what I do each day at work:
Sahara invited me this evening to share my experience with MELI and how the leadership program helped propel my career into the direction of Community Development.
After completing college in late 2005, I found myself in that strange and scary post-college place called “the Real World” where I was in need of a “Real Job.” Though I tested the water at a couple of places, I felt certain I had not quite landed that dream job at the time I started the MELI program.
To understand how important MELI was to my career development, I should back up a couple of years. At CSUF, I completed a masters in Political Science immediately after finishing a bachelors in the same major. Inspired by a political philosophy professor, I left college with a great desire and passion to change the world and eliminate the social and political inequalities I learned about.
The information I learned at MELI helped me realize that Orange County is a microcosm of the injustices, inequalities, disparities, and obstacles our nation and world faces as a whole. For example, the presentation on the OC social indicators unveiled the challenges we face as a county in areas such as affordable housing or health insurance. I learned about the interdependence of government, corporations, and non-profit organizations through Kathleen Costello’s presentation. I discovered how the academic achievement gap is translating into challenges for the county’s workforce.
Most importantly, I had the opportunity to learn and engage with wonderful people that also share in my aspiration to make meaningful changes in our communities. I was inspired by people like Sandra Robbie who exemplifies that great things are possible. She has largely succeeded in making Mendez a household name in Orange County, and beyond.
The MELI program helped me channel the passion and drive I have to improve the world into a defined, communal focus. I realized that the best way that I could make a meaningful difference in the world I live in, is to start at home. The summer after MELI, I learned about an opportunity at Wells Fargo in Community Development. I believe my passion coupled with a refined perspective on the challenges of Orange County’s working-poor made me an ideal candidate for the job. MELI helped me achieve that refined perspective. I truly love the work I do and appreciate that I have an opportunity to make an impact in Orange County by working with organizations, such as Orange County United Way, that hope to help families build assets and achieve self-sufficiency.