By Guest Blogger Felipe Hernández
In late 2011, I came into Orange County United Way as a UCI SAGE scholar (Student Achievement Guided by Experience) uncertain but excited of what lay ahead. As the first in my family to attend college, everything about this internship at United Way was thrilling because it offered the unique opportunity to do what I always wanted, help build healthier communities. From answering calls in a cubicle to attending strategy partnership meetings to eventually helping manage the Bank on Orange County initiative, each experience was inspirational. Through United Way, I learned about how community organizations build coalitions to tackle the most pressing issues facing that community. Most of all, my humble beginnings made the work at United Way personal and so learning ways to address the intersecting social issues that continued to affect friends and family at home was everything for me.
The mentorship at United Way was exceptionally valuable because they saw something in me that I never thought possible. That is, my ability to help build healthier communities globally. This instilled in me the courage to apply for a post-graduate Fulbright Fellowship in Colombia where I founded an after-school program for children affected by the on-going Colombian civil war. Later on, my mentors at United Way propelled me to reach even higher and apply for a Marshall scholarship to attend graduate school in the United Kingdom. As a part of this graduate work, this summer I am back in Sacramento as a program director for Improve Your Tomorrow to deliver a course I’ve designed, “I am Me: Strong, Peaceful, and Capable”, to help young men of color strengthen their coping capabilities to address the violence they experience regularly.
As I’ve worked to build healthier communities worldwide, I credit the development of my toolkit to the mentorship and opportunities I received at United Way through the SAGE scholars program. To this day, I cherish every moment at United Way for I can truly say it changed my journey for the better and has impacted the lives of many worldwide.
The SAGE Scholars Program was founded in 1999 by the University of California Office of the President to strengthen the pipeline of talented and diverse students entering the workforce and to support them during their undergraduate careers. The SAGE Scholars Program provides undergraduates who have significant financial need with the tools to invest in their future through leadership training, career and graduate school planning, and access to internship and scholarship opportunities.