By LISA DEADERICK
MARCH 28, 2020
Although she was a little girl at the time, Nancy Maldonado distinctly remembers the ways her parents were mistreated as newcomers to the United States. They’d dedicated their lives to ensure that their children had every possible opportunity to succeed, leaving their home country and everything that was familiar, in order to provide more for their kids. So, it was baffling that there were people who would treat her parents so poorly, simply because they had entry-level skills or spoke English as a second language, she says. As a child, there was little she could do, but the memories led to a passion to advocate for the marginalized.
“Since then, I’ve always had a desire to find ways to empower underserved communities. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that I am now the CEO of an advocacy and social services nonprofit organization that serves low-income families, and helps them achieve a better quality of life,” she says.
That organization is the Chicano Federation of San Diego County, which provides multiple programs for low-income children and families throughout the county, including childcare services, a preschool, affordable housing, subsidized meals for children, a workforce development program, and more.
Maldonado, 40, joined the Chicano Federation as a senior program director in 2017 before being named chief executive officer in 2019. She lives in Tierrasanta with her 7-year-old son, Dominic. She took some time to talk about her background in physical health and wellness, her work with the Chicano Federation, and how the organization is adjusting during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Q: Tell us about the Chicano Federation of San Diego County.
A: Chicano Federation of San Diego County was established in 1969. It is one of San Diego’s leading nonprofits, providing a variety of comprehensive, neighborhood-based services to a large and diverse population. In its early years, Chicano Federation was led by a tireless group of advocates dedicated to seeing advances in civil rights and civic participation. Today, those strong roots empower us to serve community members throughout San Diego County with programs that help low-income children and families access vital and often life-changing services. Our goal: build resiliency and self-sufficiency in underserved neighborhoods through our programming. Our vision is for our diverse communities to thrive. ... Now in our 51st year, Chicano Federation is also actively engaged in voter registration and educating the community about Census 2020.
Q: A large number of your programs seem to center children. Can you talk a bit about what went into this decision, to focus so much of the work you do as an organization, on the health and well-being of children?
A: We have a history of tackling important social issues and ensuring that underserved communities have a voice in the policies that impact their lives. Because we work to change the tide for future generations, we understand the importance of starting early in mobilizing young people in our communities to speak up and advocate for change. It all starts with educating, supporting, uplifting and investing in our county’s youth.
Q: What does the federation’s advocacy for the Chicano population, specifically, look like in practice?
A: The common misconception is that we only advocate for Chicano or Latino people. The truth is, anyone who qualifies for our programs is welcomed and accepted. Our advocacy work is centered around fighting for policies that affect low-income children and families of all backgrounds.
What I love about Tierrasanta ...
I love all of the outdoor spaces and parks. We live very close to Mission Trails, which is such an under-appreciated gem in San Diego.
Q: Your website says that your goal is “opportunity.” From an organizational standpoint, what would opportunities for the communities you serve ideally look like?
A: It would look like equal opportunities for all people to live and thrive in San Diego and it would entail derailing the structures, systems and conditions that impede or prevent an equitable region that makes opportunities accessible to all San Diegans.
Q: How has the current coronavirus pandemic affected the way your organization goes about its work? What has had to change about the ways you provide your services?
A: We have had to temporarily suspend all home visits and close our preschool, but we remain committed to supporting the childcare providers in our network who remain open to care for the children of our essential workforce. We are also working to make sure the tenants at our affordable housing properties have the food, water and supplies they need, particularly our senior tenants. Our work has shifted, but our commitment to our families has never been stronger.
Q: Have there been needs that have come up as a result, that you’ve been surprised by?
A: The reality is that this crisis has highlighted many of the needs our families have on a daily basis. The needs are more widespread and are amplified. For instance, issues of unemployment, food insecurity, and the need for bill and rental assistance are not new issues. My hope is that this concern for our most vulnerable populations remains an urgent priority even after COVID-19.
Q: And why is the advocacy work you’re doing important to you?
A: This work is important to me for many reasons. Among them is that I am a mother. My son was, and continues to be, my daily motivation. I want to be an example to him and raise a man who meets fear with courage and works outside of his comfort zone. Above all, I want to raise a man who is kind and generous. I hope the example I set, and the work that I do, can help him be rooted in empathy and compassion for others. It’s also important to me that I do my part to help create a more just and equitable world for him.
Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?
A: I’ve learned that it’s true that when you believe in the cause, it doesn’t feel like work. I truly believe that doing what I’m passionate about is the most amazing way to find a healthy sense of purpose in my life.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Just because things may not turn out as I had planned, doesn’t mean they won’t turn out better than I could have expected.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I love country music!
Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Spending as much time as possible outdoors with my 7-year-old son, Dominic, which usually means lots of physical activity and sports.