Community involvement looks different for everyone. Some give their time, others give their dollars. For Paloma Rocha, it means paying it forward by giving her heart and mind.
In her role as a recruiter at U.S. Bank, Rocha (pictured second from left above) is passionate about finding ways to serve the community where she lives and works. One of the local organizations that stood out to Rocha was MANA de San Diego. MANA, short for “Hermana,” the Spanish word for sister, is a dynamic sisterhood of Latinas bound together by common history, culture, language and goals. The organization connects young women in 7th-12th grade with mentors from the community.
“When I learned about MANA, it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch myself and try something new,” said Rocha. “Being part of the Latino community, the organization spoke to me.”
The mentees come from all walks of life, and have various socioeconomic backgrounds. Volunteer mentors meet with their mentees at least one Saturday a month, where they have an opportunity to get to know each other and share experiences. Outside of the monthly meetings, mentors and mentees have the freedom to build their relationship as they see fit: emails, phone calls or even meeting family.
“Our goal is to create a space of trust and the monthly meetings give us an opportunity to bond with our mentees, who are often going through a transitory state,” said Rocha.
She feels strongly about MANA and the work they do. “I was looking for an organization that emphasized the importance of education, community service, and leadership in women and found that in MANA. As a Latina I struggled to find my voice early on. I had pressure at home to stay true to my roots, but I was also an American trying to fit in. There’s the constant tug and pull and it can be overwhelming.”
She went on to share, “[Our mentees] often think they’re alone, and no one knows what it’s like to be them. At their age I didn’t know where I was going most of the time. My family didn’t talk about the struggle to fit in. I felt very alone in that, only to grow up and realize it’s a lot more common than I thought.”
Rocha’s mentee (pictured third from left above) over the past year with MANA was transitioning from middle to high school. Traditionally a challenging time for many young people, Rocha felt her mentee was very confident in herself and her abilities – but even the most confident teens can benefit from an adult voice.
“When you’re paired with someone who is confident and secure, it’s important to guide and empower them. My duty was to provide direction and remind her that she had the ability to make her own choices. Affirmations of ‘you do you’ and ‘you got this’ were important words of encouragement.”
While Rocha may have gone into her time with MANA looking for ways to get involved with a community organization, it turned out to be much more than that.
“It was refreshing to see the young group of hermanitas grow tremendously from the beginning of the program to the end and to hear about their hopes and dreams. I was constantly reminded that you never stop growing and learning.”
She went on to say, “All of the mentors are professionals with their own unique backgrounds and walks of life, which makes the experience very rich. For us to have the opportunity to be there during those formative years is priceless.”
Dominique Grabarczyk works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.