Ms. Mendoza has worked in other capacities over the years at Adelante, including director of early literacy programs. Many on the agency’s board have stated she has both grown with the agency and been groomed to eventually lead its efforts.
“I think it is an advantage, particularly in my case, because I’ve moved up three times within the organization,” she said. “I know what is it is to work directly with clients, to manage the programs, to handle emergencies. It gives me a firsthand understanding of what my coworkers and clients go through on a daily basis.”
“I’m excited. She’s a rising star. I’m confident—and the board is confident—that Adelante is going to be doing some wonderful things,” said board member Lisa Canales.
Ms. Mendoza knows firsthand the struggles of immigrant families to assimilate to US-American life, because she faced the same troubles as a young girl.
She publicly recounted those struggles two years ago during the César Chávez Humanitarian Awards. Born in Nicaragua, her family immigrated to Miami. But the large Spanish-speaking community there did not require her to learn English.
However, after her family moved to Sylvania, she lost out on a speaking part for the Wizard of Oz because of her poor English. Ms. Mendoza described it as “culture shock” for both her and classmates, because she was “the only brown person there.”
Ms. Mendoza was finally motivated to brush up on her bilingual skills when her family relocated to Willard, a rural area in north-central Ohio.
“I finally learned English, but there wasn’t an Adelante, there wasn’t a community, just my family,” she recalled at the awards ceremony. “My church was it.”
When her family finally moved permanently back to Toledo, she sought out a newly-formed Spanish Club at Bowsher High School. Ms. Mendoza’s first experience with Adelante was a trip to see Disney on Ice. She later graduated from Owens Community College and joined the staff at Adelante as early literacy coordinator.
“Once upon a time, I was one of those children,” she said at the time.
Ms. Mendoza has been in the United States for 25 years and has lived in Toledo for more than 17 years. Her sister Karla is a registered nurse and another sister Ivonne is a probation officer.
“You can truly say that my family is living the American Dream,” she said. “We came here with nothing and to be where we are today I can just say we are truly blessed. My parents Marielana and Bayardo always pushed us to do our best no matter what position we were placed in. They taught us great values and morals that I apply every day.”
Co-workers describe Ms. Mendoza as passionate about helping Latino families in metro Toledo—a job that will only grow for Adelante as the population continues to explode.
“I love my profession. I look forward to going to work. I love my community and working with them and for them,” she said.
Ms. Mendoza will face the challenge of an economy that continues to sputter along locally—a face that has drastically affected fund-raising. Latino non-profit groups are not immune from that struggle.
“However, I do believe that the survival of Adelante through the years is a testament of our community,” she said. “I am thankful to our funders and donors who still believe in Adelante’s mission and vision.”
Her immediate priorities are to spread the message of Adelante in addition to her fund-raising role as executive director.
“I want to reach out to our community leaders, funders, donors and have one-on-one meetings about who, and what, Adelante represents for the community,” she said. “Fund-raising is becoming more difficult, but I am still a believer in the face-to-face contact, the success stories, the passion that speaks volumes when you are talking to a person about why we do what we do at Adelante.”
To that end, Ms. Mendoza has extended a personal invitation to meet anyone curious about the organization over coffee or stop by the agency’s Broadway offices for a chat.
“I invite our community leaders to reach out and get involved, volunteer, join the board,” she said. “I am a phone call away—so call me, I am sure to find something for you to help out.”
Ms. Mendoza stated the agency has “a few plans to expand two programs and look forward to adding new programs,” although “nothing is really set in stone at this time.”
She’s excited about the prospects of either as “just fantastic for our organization.”
She’s also hopeful that past clients and the Latino community at large can help propel the agency forward.
“I always hear stories of folks that were touched by Adelante in one way or another,” she said. “To those folks, I urge them to reach out and give back. I am not talking about money. If that is one way you give back, that's fine. But I encourage you to volunteer, learn about the needs of your community, your neighborhood, get involved, learn to love the place you live in and help make it a better place.”