Membership Specialist Diana Rivas-Smith recently talked with new member, The Concilio’s President & CEO, Florencia Velasco Fortner. The Concilio is a nonprofit which has served the greater Dallas area over the past 30 years. Their mission is to build stronger communities by giving parents the power to improve education and health of their families. For more information on The Concilio visit their website at TheConcilio.org.
What was your first job and how did that lead you into the education world? My first job after college was as a Youth Organizer for Catholic Charities in LA. My job was to intervene with youth involved in gang activity and the criminal justice system. The outcome was supposed to be getting troubled teenagers off the streets, who lacked a clear support system, who were supposed to be in school during the day. The whole process, however, prompted a lot of questions in my mind. After a lot of questioning and soul searching, it became clear to me that in order to keep kids out of gangs, off the streets, in school, and succeeding in school, a strong foundation needed to be established at home – it starts with parents. My first opportunity to work in this capacity came to me when Dallas Area Interfaith offered me a job to work organizing parents in the educational system. I moved to Dallas in 1998 from California, and have been involved in education ever since.
What would you like us to know about The Concilio that we might not know?
The Concilio was originally created to assist organizations in reaching a rapidly growing Hispanic demographic. That original idea has taken us on many different paths over the life of the organization. Over the past 6 years, however, we have really concentrated our efforts and resources on how we can make the most impact on all communities in North Texas. As a result of much work by our Board Directors, Staff and Volunteers, today, we proudly serve and work with diverse communities throughout North Texas. Those include Dallas, Denton, Garland, Grand Prairie, Mesquite, Irving, Plano and Rockwall.
Why do you feel education and health is important in regards to the community?
Both are essential to student and family success, and as a result, both are important to the future of North Texas. According to Commit! Only 4% of African American and Hispanic students graduate college-ready. And according to the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, 3 out of 8 children in the Dallas area are obese; and about 70% will be obese as adults. These statistics are unacceptable if North Texas is serious about establishing itself as the business, art and educational hub of the Southwest. That is why The Concilio is working with a sense of urgency to improve education and health in our community.
Who has inspired you the most and why?
My family has served as the greatest source of inspiration throughout my life – beginning with my father, who started working at five years old and taught himself how to read and write. Somehow he developed an unrivaled sense of pride in his work, whether it was working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley or in a factory. He always did the best job he could. To this day, I show up to work grateful to have a job and excited to learn new ways of being a better employee. My mother and four brothers each made unbelievable sacrifices for me to go to college. For example, one brother gave me his car so that I could go to school while he walked to his job. All of them went without, so that I wouldn’t have to. Even though I grew up in a brutal economic situation, my family taught me that giving is better than receiving. I have had opportunities that they were never offered. Throughout the years my family has demonstrated an amazing love that has been selfless, hopeful, and kind.
As a female nonprofit executive with a personal interest in being a good leader, you find it important to give back to your community because…
I have personal experience in the difference that the programs and services offered by nonprofits can make in one person’s life. Were it not for programs like The Concilio’s, my parents would have likely not received any help or guidance in helping me complete school. As a result of that, I feel a moral obligation to help others and make sure they have the same opportunities afforded me.