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Name: Diana Mendoza

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Current Job: Director of Youth Development, Instituto del Progreso Latino

CHCI Program: 2004-2005 Public Policy Fellowship

CHCI Program Placement: Office of Former Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis, current U.S. Secretary of Labor

1. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program?

Since completing my time on the hill in the office of then-Congresswoman Hilda Solis’s (D-Los Angeles) as a CHCI Public Policy Fellow in 2005, I have worked with Latino elected officials from all over the country (NALEO), completed graduate school, and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand with no plans other than to clear my head, center myself, and think about the kind of life I wanted to create for myself.

During my year of travels from Bangkok to Bangalore, I wrote a job description for myself envisioning a position where I could work with youth and the Latino community. For the past two years I have been doing the fulfilling work I envisioned as director of youth development with Instituto del Progreso Latino, a nonprofit serving the Latino immigrant community in my hometown of Chicago.

After working at my first post-CHCI job as a policy analyst focused on census issues at NALEO, I decided it was time to gain experience in the private sector. I became the first Latina to work at the Ferguson Group, a private lobbying firm specializing in the appropriations process.

I always understood that continuing to pursue my formal education was also critical to my success. While at the Ferguson Group, I applied to and became a National Urban Fellow and received a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the City University of New York Baruch College in 2009. It was after graduate school that I felt I needed the time and space to plan my next goals with clarity and intentionality. I left for Thailand with no return ticket and no concrete plan other than to be open to adventure and the other kind of valuable education that comes from being exposed to other cultures. What I really needed was to step back and think about how to create professional goals which were aligned with my passion and values. I realized my most fulfilling moments took place during the time I spent working with young people through my volunteer work. I set about to consciously build a career where I could live my mission and not have to split my life between professional and volunteer work.

For the past two years, I have been completely captivated by the challenges and rewards of working with youth in the Latino community on a daily basis. I feel that today, I am living my dream with more purpose and passion than ever before.

2. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?

CHCI changed my life. There is no question that the CHCI fellowship experience has shaped my career. In the personal mission statement I created as an undergrad, I hoped to commit my professional career to being an effective resource for and serve the Latino community, and to work to empower Latino immigrants and Latino youth. CHCI gave me the tools to fulfill my mission and the opportunities to live my mission.

The fellowship reinforced my commitment to the Latino community by helping me understand how policy works from the top down and how it impacts our communities. For example, during my placement on the hill, I worked on the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Today, I am running WIA programs at our agency. CHCI exposed me to professional and leadership opportunities that I still draw from.

A lot has happened over the past seven years! My time in CHCI helped me develop the confidence and skills do things I could never have even imagined before coming to D.C.

3. How have you stayed engaged in community service?

I have always made every effort to live my mission through my professional and volunteer work. While working in Washington, D.C., I served as a volunteer citizenship instructor and as an on-call volunteer with the local police domestic violence program. I am most proud of my volunteer work with Latinas Leading Tomorrow (LLT), an after school program designed to support the growth of emerging Latina leaders at the middle and high school levels.

During my time in D.C., I knew I wanted that engagement to go beyond volunteering after work and on weekends. This is why I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work with an amazing organization like Instituto del Progreso Latino. Since moving back to Chicago, I have actually become involved in different activities outside of work. The most exciting thing to take place in the last month was the approval of the CHCI Chicago alumni chapter, which took about a year to coordinate. We – the new chapter officers – are very excited about getting the chapter started and giving back to the Latino community by promoting CHCI programs in Chicago.

4. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?

Dream big. Live your dreams. Be creative. Commit to being happy. Be courageous and leave fear behind.

5. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

In ten years, I expect to have developed my leadership abilities to the point where I will be making a substantial contribution on behalf of the Latino and immigrant communities on a larger scale – both nationally and internationally. I expect my work as an advocate to continue and expand in areas I have yet to imagine. I can picture myself as leading a Latino service organization, starting a scholarship foundation, starting my own business or perhaps even continuing my work on an international level. I trust that my experiences, background and passion for social change will continue to guide me towards the right path. Above all, I intend to continue to be an agent for positive change.