On Monday, February 17, 2014 CILSA celebrated its fifth annual CILSA Awards Dinner. Awards were given to a Saint Mary's staff member, faculty member, community partner, alumni and student. This story highlights Sofia Navarro '06 who received the CILSA Engaged Alumni Award.
Sofia Navarro credits her parents as her inspiration and motivation for doing this work. Growing up, she watched her father go to work every day while her mother stayed at home with her and three siblings (which was a job in itself). This taught her what hard work and dedication meant and is what motivated her to do this work. She also says she could see the face of many of her family members in the community where she currently serves.
During her second year at Saint Mary’s, Sofia became involved with Hermanas Unidas as the Social Chair and later the Co-Chair. It was through this group that she first worked with CILSA to do several community service projects. Sofia notes that it was one of those service projects to St. Vincent de Paul to help out in the soup kitchen that catapulted her interest in wanting to help others.
The following year she signed up to do a Christian Service Internship and was chosen to go to Providence, Rhode Island and assist the San Miguel Middle School which is an independent Lasallian middle school for urban boys from the Greater Providence area. The school is dedicated to the belief that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. This experience was also life changing, as it was the first time she travelled to another state and was exposed to another culture. She says working with a low-income population was not something new, as it was a familiar setting. However, working with the children taught her patience, the value of paying it forward, and exposed her to a whole other world.
After graduating from Saint Mary's College she decided she wanted to work with people but was not sure where to begin. A friend had mentioned a non-profit organization called The Unity Council. The Unity Council is a non-profit community development corporation committed to enriching the quality of life of families primarily in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. Its mission is to help families and individuals build wealth and assets through comprehensive programs of sustainable economic, social and neighborhood development. Sofia looked into opportunities at the agency and applied for a Program Assistant position and was hired in June 2005. Through hard work and dedication she has moved up in various positions and is now the Chief Operating Officer for The Unity Council.
Sofia has also served on CILSA's Community Partner Advisory Council and was a particularly helpful member given her dual perspective as both a community partner and an alum. She also participated in a young nonprofit professionals panel that as part of a Career Center-sponsored event here on campus. In the past, the Unity Council has been a partner for service-learning courses where accounting majors helps members of the neighborhood complete their tax forms. The Unity Council is also a partner with Jumpstart where our CILSA student leaders provide literacy skills to pre-schoolers in Fruitvale. So, you can see Sofia and the Unity Council still have a connection to CILSA and Saint Mary’s College.
Sofia's story is illustrates the impact that the Saint Mary’s Lasallian mission can have on an individual…both during their college experience….and afterwards as an alumnus who is now giving back to the community.