Today we’d like to introduce you to Veronica Melvin.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Veronica. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a suburb of San Diego, one of four kids. My mother, an immigrant from Mexico, was a force – fearless, determined, unstoppable. But navigating the education system was not a priority or a cultural norm for her. Work and paying the bills came first, coupled with a general naiveté that all public schools provided the same equitable education to every student.
That changed as my older brother and sister struggled to keep decent grades in both elementary and middle school. My mother took notice and not wanting to see the same for her younger children, asked around for what she could do. She learned from neighbors that a school ten minutes away, a school that we were not zoned for, provided a much better opportunity to learn. And she got me and my brother into that school.
I was fortunate to have a mother who advocated for me and my brother when the system didn’t. I had amazing teachers every single year of my life, who cultivated an excitement for learning in me. I was able to benefit by receiving a great public education all the way through college, but it might not have been that way. I am passionate that our society needs to deliver high-quality education for every child.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I come from a family that did not set forth college or career expectations. That meant that I bounced around – figuring out which path was mine. I did have amazing mentors in my life who helped me get where I am today. For those who are starting their journey, I would say – engage in career exploration to the greatest extent possible – whether online – there is so much more available today – through internships and professional networking – or through a school’s College and Career Center. Throw yourself into these career explorations. When I was in high school, I was a translator in an OB/GYN office. I thought I wanted to be in the medical field. But after fainting so many times, I realized it was not a fit for me. So I’d say two things:
1. Commit to career exploration – Forge that path for yourself.
2. Welcome mentors into your life – Sometimes they come your way; other times you have to seek their guidance.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with LA Promise Fund – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I’m the president and CEO of the LA Promise Fund (LAPF). I’ve been in this role since 2011. I was drawn to LAPF because of its commitment to nonprofit leadership, education, and serving communities most in need. The LA Promise Fund is a dedicated, reform-minded education organization with a mission to raise private funds to improve public education opportunities across LA County, while simultaneously leading a network of schools in South Los Angeles.
We have a commitment to the South LA community and a holistic approach to uplifting this community. We also are committed to growing talent locally within our own organization – hiring our staff from South LA so that we know our community best. And we are committed to connecting all our folks to a network of supporters and partners in Los Angeles and South LA.
Right now, we’re focused on serving the needs of our South LA students and their families. Eighty percent of our students’ families have lost all income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So we’re meeting our students’ and families’ needs where they are now. This means helping them get groceries with a three-time weekly food pantry at our LA Promise Charter Middle School, helping our students and their families get WiFi and computers so that they can do their work, helping them pay their phone bills, and much more.
There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Sometimes we can find mentors in the people around us. We might not think of them as mentors — folks like our parents and family members, but they teach us soft skills – like persistence, hard work, and showing up for school every day. And in doing this, they’re really cultivating our ability to be successful.
Teachers can be a gateway to mentors. They are connected to numerous other folks – in the broader economy – and we can benefit from asking them. College and Career Centers are another great place to find networking opportunities – through programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, as well as internship opportunities. If you’re able to participate in an internship, be a sponge. Be open to receive the guidance and advice that is provided. Wherever possible, if you have a career interest – find people already working in that career field – so that you can hear what it takes to be a future professional in that field.
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