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By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


Some new leaders are emerging in the local Latino community-- and their paths to those positions are firmly rooted in family values.


Carlos Ruiz

Church and family are the strong foundation on which Carlos Ruiz, president of the Latino Alliance, is trying to make his mark on Northwest Ohio.


The 27-year old, bilingual native of Nicaragua wants to make the most of his opportunities and help others do the same, because he knows firsthand what many Latino immigrants go through to succeed.


Carlos Ruiz

“I've already accomplished much, but not as much as the potential that I feel that I have,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by some awesome mentors. The things that I've learned from them and the things that they've done at my age and even younger, I feel that there’s much more I can be doing and sometimes it’s hard not to stretch myself too thin.”


Ruiz stated a lot of people at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, as well as elsewhere, are “working hard for the younger generation of Latinos to help them stay” to become leaders themselves. But few are rising to the opportunity. He said “those who paved the way are settling down,” now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and “can’t do it forever.”


“I see a problem in our younger Latino community. There’re few of us that are stepping up and attempting to take over some of the roles that the trailblazers have set for us,” he said. “So when I'm asked to take the lead on something or participate in something, it's hard for me to say no because I know there's not going to be others that will step up and say yes. That's a trend I’ve seen in the Toledo area.”


The Latino Alliance saw resurgence in 2012 as an umbrella organization for several local Latino nonprofits and other groups to speak with a unified voice. Ruiz took over as interim president last year—and sees the alliance as ready to start to speak up in 2015 on local Latino issues they've been discussing at monthly meetings.


“We’ve done a good job of raising awareness of the organization, be able to leverage ourselves and our organizations to support one another,” he said. “Now there are some things in the community that we feel that, as an umbrella organization, we can be that voice.”


Lucas County Auditor Anita López admitted during a speech about 18 months ago to UT's Latino Student Union (LSU) that she “stole” Ruiz from Lucas County Job and Family Services (JFS) with the promise of a better salary. He has worked his way up from budget analyst at JFS to assistant chief deputy auditor since his hire nearly two years ago.


Ruiz graduated from the University of Toledo in 2010 with a degree in finance, where he was a former LSU president. He continues to be active in the UT Latino fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta, Epsilon Alpha Chapter, serving as the chapter's advisor for the past five years.


Ruiz lists Sabina Elizondo-Serratos, Deb Ortiz-Flores, and Margarita De León as his mentors and credits them for helping him to develop personally and professionally since the day he started attending UT on an academic scholarship.


“She’s been like a second mother to me. I wouldn't be where I am without her,” he said of Sabina. “I wouldn't have graduated college without her. She was one of the first ones to identify in me a potential to be a leader, not just to the Latino community, but the community as a whole. She helped me to get involved and develop me. After my parents, I see Sabina as my first mentor.”


Ms. Ortiz-Flores, then the JFS executive director, hired Ruiz as a fiscal intern, which led to hands-on experience in public sector finance. He credited her with allowing him to “shadow” her and for taking him to community events to introduce him to other influential leaders.


“She didn’t have to. She was busy, but she always took me along because she knew I could do better,” he said.


Ruiz is a first-generation immigrant, moving with his family as an infant from Managua, Nicaragua to Miami. He credited his grandmother for helping his extended family, including his cousins such as Guisselle Mendoza, Adelante, Inc. executive director, to come to the U.S. They settled in Toledo when he was four years old, following the church they still attend to Northwest Ohio, The Church of God of Prophecy, when they heard there was a Spanish-speaking congregation in Toledo.


“We've always come from a humble and very limited-resource background,” he said, describing Nicaragua as “the second-poorest country in the Western hemisphere. “My parents came here for better opportunity for my sister and I, to go to school.”

His father is a 20-year factory worker at a Perrysburg plant, while his mom stayed home to raise their children. Both of his parents have an elementary education, but pushed for their children to get a good education—even moving from South Toledo to the Northwood area so Carlos could attend Lake High School, where he graduated in 2006.

“Growing up, education was number one for us. They didn't encourage us to get good grades; it was expected and demanded,” Ruiz said. “It's the emphasis by my parents on education that has allowed me to be where I am today.”


Ruiz is still close to his parents and his church. He has played drums alongside his dad on the guitar at church for the past 16 years. His parents have since moved back to Toledo, where they were able to buy their first house. Ruiz learned to speak Spanish as a toddler before he learned English in order to attend school.


While a student at UT, Ruiz worked as a youth specialist at Adelante and, now serves on the nonprofit agency's board of directors and serves as secretary of its executive board.


“I’ve actually come full circle, because as a kid growing up, I was a client,” he said. “I hold it really dearly close to my heart, because I really appreciate and I understand the clientele. I come from a very similar background to the folks that we help—the monolingual families. I grew up in a household where my parent's didn't speak English, so the work the employees do there is invaluable. I’m very proud and humbled to be a part of that organization.”


Ruiz also has worked as a teaching assistant at BGSU. He spent a year in graduate school and hopes to finish his Master’s degree one day soon. He has no aspirations for political office and hopes one day to use his experience in “making the jump to the private sector.” He also wants to “live the rest of life” in Toledo, if possible.



Copyright © 1989 to 2015 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/13/15 19:59:54 -0800.




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