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NHI staffers salute NHI volunteers for National Volunteer Month

nhi volunteers george michelle with nhi students
Posted: March 17, 2022 at 7:05 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

March is National Volunteer Month, but as anyone who knows the National Hispanic Institute knows, volunteer activity is core to NHI’s operations year-round. Currently, some volunteers are working to get the last of the participants recruited for 2022’s slate of programs, while others are being assembled to help run the programs and to prepare teams for the Texas Great Debate at Schreiner University, which will officially kick off the 2022 slate of NHI programs.

In the spirit of National Volunteer Month, four NHI staff members wanted to take the opportunity to offer some thank yous to recently-active NHI volunteers helping the organization fulfill its ongoing Latino leadership education project. While by no means a complete list, as NHI appreciates all its volunteers, their thank yous reflect what’s happening in this exciting year in which NHI, as well as the rest of the nation, is getting closer to “normal” following the previous two pandemic-disrupted years.

NHI senior vice president Julio Cotto, beginning his thank you list with a history lesson, recalled, “Since NHI’s founding, volunteers have been paramount. When you read the chronicles of NHI’s early years, you learn about the importance of the founders’ family and close friends who helped open doors, find kids, raise dollars, and even sew gifts. To this day, NHI annually mobilizes hundreds of volunteers in various aspects of the organization.”

“The pandemic posed countless challenges to so many entities and communities, and NHI was no different,” he reflected. “However, in my near 20 years of being a member of HQ, I have never seen a committed force of volunteer members so committed to innovate and create a new NHI in the digital world with no clear notion of how long this pandemic would last and how the ‘x’ programs would be received.”

“Just this week on visits to the East Coast,” he added, “I got to hear numerous stories from young high schoolers who gained so many of the same takeaways as their peers who had done in-person NHI programs. Those same ‘x’ students have continued on as participants, but are also recruiting in their high schools and ready to help staff with both in-person and virtual programs — not simply out of a sense of duty, service, or loyalty, but because one of the magical elements of NHI’s work is that everything everyone does involves learning and a new set of challenges that keep a leader sharp and constantly evolving forward.”

“Not long after NHI’s founding, local organizations of families and students started to come together. NHIers wanted to not only go to programs but be part of NHI learning year-round and they wanted to join the mission to make NHI a permanent fixture in the life of the community.”

“Originally known as Community Leadership Council, Family Leadership Academies, and now NHI Alliances, hundreds of members have the opportunity to engage the organization locally and regionally. Led by volunteers who are alumni and/or parents, Project Administrators help provide direction and guidance to local NHI entities. We cannot thank this year’s Project Administrators and their local teams of volunteers and parents who carry out the mission every day.”

He then provided a list of key people in NHI’s most engaged regions, including:

  • Austin: Jaime Gonzalez, Melissa Garcia, Lia Guerra, Natalia Chapa-Mills
  • Corpus Christi: Lanie Alaniz
  • Dominican Republic: Kedwin Martinez, Emely Valdez, Juan Luis Contreras
  • East Coast: Steven Hernandez
  • El Paso: Dr. Katrina Garza, Tracy Navar
  • Houston: Sonia Lopez, Paola Hernandez
  • Mexico: Paul Morales
  • Midwest: Andrew Perez, Jasmine Lopez, Maggie Olmos, Alexis Banda, Jessica Varela
  • North Texas (Dallas/Fort Worth): George Rodriguez
  • Panama: Aldahir Olmos
  • Rio Grande Valley: Olivia Gonzalez
  • San Antonio: Anita Fernandez 
  • Tip of Texas (Cameron and Willacy Counties): Jorge Lee, Tino Villarreal, Jr. 

NHI senior vice president Chris Nieto noted that a number of school districts and individual schools have been instrumental in partnering with NHI and contributing to the volunteer efforts enabling NHI programs to happen. Those include:

  • Austin ISD (Austin, Texas)
  • Houston ISD (Houston, Texas)
  • Mathis ISD (Mathis, Texas)
  • Cotulla ISD (Cotulla, Texas)
  • Corpus Christi ISD (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  • Canutillo ISD (Canutillo, Texas)
  • La Joya ISD (La Joya, Texas)
  • San Antonio ISD (San Antonio, Texas )
  • Brooks County ISD (Falfurrias, TX)
  • Fort Worth ISD (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • YES Prep (Houston, Texas)
  • Uplift Academies (Dallas, Texas)
  • Harmony Schools (Austin, Texas)
  • IDEA Public Schools (Texas)
  • D211 (Illinois)
  • Cristo Rey Network
  • Marshalltown Community School District (Iowa)
  • Poudre School District  (Colorado)

NHI’s executive vice president Nicole Nieto highlighted volunteers from two nations instrumental to the organization’s growth throughout the Americas, noting, “Many thanks go out to Eduardo ‘Walo’ Spiegel, Aldahir Olmos, and others in Panama who have reached out to seven schools and recruited every crossover student to the LDZ! Kedwin Martinez, Estefany Valdez, and Juan Luis Contreras have bent over backward to recruit upwards of 75 students from the Dominican Republic.”

She added. “We’d also like to thank Ms. Celeste Polanco who has really helped NHI organize calls with key leaders in Nevada and California.”

NHI Ambassador Rudy Rodriguez — who you’ll learn more about in the coming weeks — noted that Camila Colin is a JFL Fellow who has been instrumental in growing NHI in the West Texas area. Her passion to inspire others and innovative ideas will ensure NHI grows in her hometown of Laredo.

Finally, NHI would like to thank State Farm for its volunteer support to share information nationwide with its staff and agents.

“I am more excited than I have been in a long time because I have been inspired by our volunteers who carried NHI through these recent turbulent times and are ready to build for the future,” Cotto said. “We cannot thank our volunteers enough for their energy and commitment, and how they enrich the organization with their ideas and push us to constantly remain at the cutting edge of thought and leadership development. Thank you to our volunteers: We cannot do it without you and we are better always with you.”

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