Name: Ricardo Zavala
Hometown: Austin, TX
CHCI Program/Year: Internship 2007
CHCI Program Placement(s): Summer intern Congressman Lloyd Doggett
Current Position/Organization: Program Coordinator, City of Austin
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Dove Springs, which is a mostly Latino inner-city neighborhood of Austin, TX.
As a young child, I remember witnessing my father break up a gang fight in front of my home. Soon afterwards, my father received a phone call from someone threatening a drive-by shooting. That night, our entire family had to sleep on the floor. On another occasion, while walking home from school with my little brother, we saw a gang fight in which a young teenager was stabbed to death. These were some of the challenges which I had to overcome in order to graduate from high school. Neither of my parents graduated from college so when I finished high school I went straight to work, not knowing how to apply to college. I was able to enroll in Austin Community College, while working full time and paying for my classes myself, and not long after, I transferred to Texas State University and graduated Summa Cum Laude. It wasn’t until my junior year at Texas State that I found out there was something called FAFSA and I could receive funding to go to college.
Today, I am the Founder and President of Dove Springs Proud (DSP), a private group for quality positive individuals who grew up, still live and/or serve Dove Springs daily, with the sole mission of supporting the current residents and youth who live there. DSP has raised funds to help a local resident with her son’s medical bills after he was diagnosed with cancer, raffled off a bike and helmet for a sixth grader, purchased backpacks for young women attending school, donated to our Dove Springs Neighborhood Association to assist them with supporting residents who were affected by a flood, and was a sponsor for the Dove Springs Recreation Advisory Board to rename a baseball field after Freddy Zamora Jr., a local resident who lost his battle with cancer. Today, DSP has grown from five members to over 200 in August and I am greatly humbled to be our group’s first President. DSP will soon host an annual Youth Summit where Dove Springs’ residents and alumni will lead workshops about criminal justice, health and education for local high school students.
2. What motivated you to apply to CHCI programs, and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
(I applied to CHCI) after completing the Gregory Luna Scholars Program at the Texas Senate, I wanted to intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to learn how the legislative process worked on the national level. During my experience, I learned a lot about different Latino cultures from Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and Salvadorians, ones that I did not know of prior to interacting with my fellow interns. This interaction was extremely valuable as I learned we as Latinos face a lot of the same challenges and should join together to support each other and celebrate our unity and differences. Being able to see other young Latinos, in suits, working on the Hill was a great motivator for me to continue pursing my dream of working for government to serve my old community of Dove Springs. During our internship, we hosted a community service project for the Salvadorian community in D.C. where we led workshops on health and education for local youth and their families. This experience was one of my most satisfying because we were able to give back to possible future CHCI interns.
3. What have you been doing since you finished your CHCI program?
After CHCI, I was accepted into the nationally-competitive City Hall Fellows program in Houston, TX, working for the Park and Recreation Department where I helped create two programs for the Director. After several years of working there, I accepted a position back in my hometown of Austin with the local government. This has allowed me to come back and give back to Dove Springs through (my organization) DSP, and serve as Chair of the Emma Barrientos Friends of the Mexican-American Cultural Center, the Urban League Young Professionals Education Committee, and the East Cesar Chavez Contact Team Education, as well as serve on the Dove Springs Recreation Advisory Board, Reclaiming Futures Advisory Board and on the Campus Advisory Committees for Travis High School, Mendez Middle School and Widen Elementary.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
CHCI has prepared me to understand the effects of federal legislation on local communities, gave me the experience to better implement federal program locally and the confidence and skills to lead a community group in Dove Springs, a group that received a resolution from Travis County Commissioner’s Court and the Texas House of Representatives for our efforts to support youth and residents in Dove Springs.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
Through my role of DSP President, I have been the keynote speaker at the eighth grade Ceremony of Mendez Middle School (where I used to attend), and have been invited to Career and College days at Langford, Widen and Overaton Elementary Schools to let youth know the importance of getting an education and not allowing their backgrounds or being from the inner-city deter them from accomplishing their dreams. I was also a mentor to a young man, Hugo Balzadua, from Dove Springs since he was in sixth grade and now he is the first in his family to graduate from high school.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
I hope to be a community servant who continues to give back and serve Dove Springs and other inner-city neighborhoods through public service. I wish to complete my Master’s in Public Affairs at the University of Texas LBJ School and grow in my career. I am a proud husband and father and pray to been seen in their eyes as an honorable, loving and giving man.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Always strive to fulfill your dreams regardless of the obstacles in your way and never forget where you come from; be proud to of your history, your community and give back.