By: Nadia Alvarado
I was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela. My father, born and raised in Venezuela, came from a very poor household. My mother was born and raised in Nicaragua and only moved to Venezuela with her family after the devastating earthquake of 1972 destroyed Managua. As an immigrant family without any material possessions other than the clothes they could carry, theirs was not an easy life in Venezuela. My mother, at a very young age, soon found herself in the role of caregiver and head-of-household due to her parents’ deteriorating health.
By the time my parents met and decided to create a family of their own, they both had learned a very important life lesson through their circumstances: education is key if you are to break the mold of poverty, rise above the stereotypes others may have of you, and have a chance at a better life.
I was 3 years old when my family moved to Nicaragua. My early formative years were spent at private schoolsthat were way too expensive for my parents to afford; but through much sacrifice, some clever budgeting, and lots of scholarships, they made it happen. Living in a country that was frozen in time due to an economic embargo set in place ages ago by the Ronald Reagan administration, I grew up hearing stories of better times—stories that made me yearn for more. My parents told us that if there was anything they could leave my brother and me after they were gone from this world; they wanted it to be an education and the tools we would need to forge our own future. They did more than that. They have built in me a set of core values that have helped me, time and time again, to make the right decision. They taught me to believe in myself and to always try to make a difference.
It was because of that upbringing and several character-shaping experiences outside of the safety of home that I decided to pursue a degree in Women’s Studies. Nicaragua, like many other Central American countries, has had a history of violations of women’s basic human rights, and I knew I wanted to make a difference. In 2004, I became one of the founding members of the Central American Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization created to support—through strategic grantmaking by us—grassroots organizations led and formed by women working toward the promotion and advocacy of human rights for women. The Fund is focused on women’s right to physical and emotional integrity, social and economic justice, and participation as leaders in the decisions that affect their lives and their communities.
We knew that financing the groups and their activities would not be enough in this area of the world; so the Fund developed a program that offered capacitybuilding, technical training, and operational support aimed primarily at grassroots groups. Through the capacity-building program, we aimed to ensure the continuation of groups and organizations by providing access to the knowledge and tools they needed, as well as opportunities for exchange, feedback, and creation of networks and alliances.
It was during my tenure at the Fund that I made the decision to change career paths. I learned of the importance of securing resources for social change; and after three years of fundraising for women in Central America, I said my goodbyes not only to a job that allowed me to make a difference in the lives of thousands of women and children, but to my family and my country as well. I moved to the United States in the fall of 2007 to pursue a degree in Philanthropic Studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (then known as the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University). It was an amazing and rich learning experience, but I couldn’t wait to go back into the nonprofit sector as a more prepared and seasoned development professional.
I worked in the nonprofit sector in Indianapolis for six years before I made my move to the beautiful and boisterous city of Chicago. I am currently the Director of Development for the St. Jude League. I couldn’t be more excited about this career where I work to support the wonderful community work done by the priests and the parishes in some of the most impoverished and violent urban neighborhoods in Chicago, as well as other cities in the United States where the Claretians have a strong presence. If I can leave you, the reader, with one thought after reading my story, it would be this: Whatever career path you have chosen, believe in yourself and keep a desire to achieve. Push forward, make a leap of faith, jump, take a step, tiptoe— whatever is right for all the decision points you will reach—but don’t allow yourself to ever stop. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction is the biggest step of your life!