Today we’d like to introduce you to Irene Quevedo.
Irene, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Inglewood, CA. I was the youngest of six, living in a single-parent household with a few siblings old enough to be my parents. I oddly spent a lot of time playing alone. My father was an abusive man and while he and I mother separated when I was in grade school, his volatile anger never really left our home life. Even still, life was good. I was often playing in an imaginary world, talking to myself and dreaming big, big dreams.
I eventually graduated high school and though the feat seemed small, for my family, it was huge. Education wasn’t a priority in our household where all were focused on working hard – as it needed to be. Four of five sibling dropped out of high school to earn a living, support themselves or became parents. My sister who was 18 years older than me was like a second mother. She did graduate high school, but college was out of reach due to a learning disorder.
When I eventually attended the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) this became a shift in our entire family’s legacy. I wasn’t just doing this for me. I was doing this for everyone before me working so hard to survive and everyone after me who might feel so compelled to use education to change generational poverty.
At UCSB, I majored in Sociology which I can now credit for a 15-year career in the nonprofit sector. I also majored in Global Studies with an emphasis in Latin America. To this major, I credit my livelong passion of travel. I’ve visited countless countries across Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. I’ve been a backpacker, a tourist, a study abroad student and now, a digital nomad.
Today, while I remain the proud CEO of a successful Long Beach-based college access and mentoring nonprofit organization (Operation Jump Start/OJS), I am also a world traveler working remotely across the globe. I’ve been traveling and living abroad since the summer of 2017 and it’s a complete dream come true. I’ve lived throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Experience our family’s travel adventures at queventure.com and follow along on Instagram at @queventure.abroad.
My husband ‘worldschools’ are children (11, 7 and 6) and I get to live my passion traveling and still serving a community much like the one I grew up in. I see myself in the 100’s of students we serve at OJS and I couldn’t be prouder of our goal to help low-income youth get in, stay in, and graduate from college. Personally, I understand how powerful a college education can be for students growing up like I did. Yet, this wasn’t really about the college degree at all. To me, college taught me about independence, inner strength, and a world much bigger than all I knew in an underserved SoCal town.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Growing up was a struggle, but in many ways, I was oblivious to that.
The next biggest struggle in my life was getting out of my own way. When I became the first in my family to attend college, I didn’t necessarily feel unworthy, but as life evolved, I had doubts. I was a young Latina hoping to make a mark. I didn’t always see myself represented, so I found a support group of other strong Latinas to move along with in life.
I also always felt a deep desire to become a successful leader. After a few years working for nonprofits, I landed at the perfect one. I identified so much with OJS and believed I’d become the CEO. Not sure how I could believe that having only come on board in an entry level position, but if my upbringing taught me anything it was to work hard. In 5 short years, I went from an entry level case manager post to becoming the agency’s CEO.
Those years weren’t always easy. Navigating marriage, motherhood, a career and finances became one of my biggest struggles early in my career. I was taking on a lot by the age of 28. My peers weren’t buying condos, changing careers, having babies, and getting married. I don’t know what my rush was!
But again, I eventually got out of my own way. I believed fiercely in the law of attraction. I began visualizing it all… the job I’d have, the home and neighborhood we’d live in, right down to the white picket fence. I envisioned finding a strong man to call my husband, I envisioned world travel, I envisioned becoming CEO. And it’s all happened in the span of a decade and a half.
This all from a girl whose mother grew up so poor her parents couldn’t afford to buy her the shoes she needed to attend school. My mother, with her first-grade education, once envisioned learning to ride a bike and how amazing that might be. That was a pretty big dream for her. Well, that woman did more than simply learn to ride a bike. She with her first-grade education came to the U.S. and eventually became a small business owner, a home owner, a successful single-mother and so much more. When I think of her struggles, I realize all of mine are so insignificant.
Plus, what I envision and work hard to achieve is much, much bigger than any struggle thrown my way.
Operation Jump Start – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Operation Jump Start’s Mission is to help low-resourced, high-potential first-generation students get in, stay in, and graduate from a four-year college. We do this by providing academic support, mentoring and exposure to a broader world.
Since 1994, OJS has provided the comprehensive resources and mentoring needed to enable youth in underserved communities to reach their full potential through a college education. Our organization has an established and successful track record of success in providing access to higher education for low-income students of color – a demographic group significantly underrepresented on four-year college campuses locally, throughout California, and across our nation. OJS serves 300 youth annually – all Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) students, ranging from 13 to 23 years old.
We are most proud of our longstanding support of youth. We serve students to and through college beginning in the 8th grade. I can only imagine the impact in my personal life had I had a mentor and OJS in my corner beginning in the 8th grade. What sets us a part is this long-term transformative support of youth and also our passion.
One hundred percent of our staff were themselves first-generation college students. There’s a true value placed on education and supporting our youth to achieve in life by creating for them a leveled playing field. That’s really our specialty. With OJS, students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to have ample life experiences and educational resources, such as free tutoring and social emotional counseling, would simply fall through the inner city’s proverbial cracks. Our students become Posse Scholars, Gates Millennium Scholars, attend renowned universities and eventually, become successful members of society giving back to the communities they’ve grown up in.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I am most proud of the growth I’ve created within the agency. The more the agency grows the more students we serve. When I began in 2009, we served only about 57 students and their volunteer mentors. Today, we operate two successful programs and serve over 300 youth annually. We’ve expanded our services from five to ten years and we’ve remained focused on the simple goal of being the difference in a young person’s life.
We serve amazing students, but these students very often lack all of the necessary resources to gain admission into college. More important, these are students who without our support wouldn’t get a chance to experience life as their peers do. What we do might seem so simple, but it is actually very profound.
Because of OJS students ride their first surfboard, taste their first sushi roll, fly on a plane for the first time, leave their small town for their first overnight trip to the Grand Canyon or Stanford University. Our mentors transport our youth to a way of life different than all they’ve ever known and I am proud of what that access creates.
Without my time at UCSB, I wouldn’t have gone on to envision a life of world travel. I would have missed out on a passion that runs so deep in my heart. UCSB opened my eyes and eventually, my world. It was my place of access. At OJS, we are that place for the youth of Long Beach. With our support they learn about their own value, their own reach and that any dream no matter how big, can come true.
I am pretty proud to illustrate this in my own life as I’ve traveled for close to a year and shared my journey with our participants. They get to see firsthand that a girl who grew up just like them gets to build a dream career and a dream life on her terms. I’ve lived in over 10 countries this year alone. It’s a magical life and I am so proud to be an example for our students that hard work pays off, no matter what struggles life throws your way, or what neighborhood you’ve grown up in.
- Address: 3515 Linden Ave Long Beach, CA 90807
- Website: operationjumpstart.org
- Phone: 562-988-2131
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: opjumpstartlb
- Facebook: opjumpstartlb
- Twitter: opjumpstartlb