Leadership Program Student Cecilia Gomez ’21 Addresses the Needs of a Local NonProfit

Ceci Gomez ’21, Krista Lucchesi (Program Director for the Mercy Brown Bag Program), Alex Mitkovikj ’21, and  Armando Machado ’21.Saint Mary’s BA in Leadership & Organizational Studies (BALOS) Program, a degree completion program designed for working adults, allows them to incorporate practical and immersive experiences into a flexible education. Three BALOS students, Cecilia “Ceci” Gomez ’21, Alex Mitkovikj ’21, and Jesus “Armando” Machado ’21, overcame limitations brought on by the pandemic to raise funds and volunteer with the Mercy Brown Bag Program, a local nonprofit dedicated to serving seniors in need. Their work has gone beyond the classroom as they continue to address the needs of the nonprofit after their project. Below, we talked to Ceci Gomez about the BALOS Program at the Kalmanovitz School of Education and her contribution to the community. 

How did you make your project happen despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19? 

Ceci Gomez: Our assignment was to use an actual nonprofit and try to solve a fictitious problem that they were facing; yet the reality was that Mercy was truly facing hardships due to the pandemic, trying to help as many seniors as possible. We began by reviewing Mercy’s website and reached out to the director, Krista Lucchesi, to get additional information. We found that their motto, “seniors helping seniors,” had been greatly impacted by COVID-19. Because seniors became a high-risk and vulnerable population, they could no longer volunteer; yet the need for food continued and quickly increased amongst seniors. Mercy planned quickly and was able to gain younger volunteers to help pack the grocery bags. In addition, their operation of having seniors come to pick up food moved to deliveries. They partner with Meals on Wheels, Uber, and volunteers to drive and drop off groceries to in-need seniors. However, like many small nonprofit organizations, they were operating on a shoestring. The more we learned, the more we wanted to help. 

What did you gain from this experience? 

Ceci Gomez: We gained a greater understanding of the lack of resources available to small and local nonprofit organizations. We realized how the staff of these organizations are committed and dedicated to their mission, but rely on donations and volunteers for a majority of the help. It

allowed us to witness firsthand how a community shows up for its most vulnerable members, and as Oaklanders ourselves, we felt grateful that we were able to contribute. 

What is the BA in Leadership & Organizational Studies Program exactly?

Ceci Gomez: The BA in Leadership & Organizational Studies is a unique degree completion program for working adults that combines real-world, relevant experience with flexible online learning, encouraging faculty, and a supportive peer-learning environment. Personally, it has allowed us to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals from different walks of life. This cohort has become an extended family that finds new ways to work with one another. In this project, it was the first time that the three of us were in a group with one another, and we all enjoyed working together on this project not only to complete an assignment but to help an outside organization.

What attracted you to the BALOS Program? What kind of skills do you learn?

Ceci Gomez: I had recently been promoted to a leadership role within my organization. Although I had no previous experience, I am a hard worker and showed that I had the drive to listen, learn, and create a strong department, and thus was given the opportunity. I have seen great examples of leadership but also really bad ones, and realized that I wanted to build my skill set and focus on what I could do to become a better leader. As a Latina of low-income parents raised in Oakland, California, a city that gets a bad reputation, I aspire to continue to learn how to best encourage others from all backgrounds to strive for any goals that they may have. I was looking for a flexible program that allowed me to work full-time and where I felt that I would truly learn the necessary leadership skills. The BALOS Program and the professors have been influential in my development as a person and leader. I enjoy that the classes include open discussions about topics such as social justice, diversity, global environmental impact, communication, analytics, writing, and project management skills, all of which I feel contribute to being a successful personal and professional leader. 

To access the GoFundMe for the Mercy Brown Bag Project started by the students, follow this link

For more information regarding the BALOS program, see their website.