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MAF Staff Spotlight: Doris Vasquez

Meet Doris Vasquez, MAF’s Client Success Manager. Though she’d never admit it herself, Doris embodies what it means to be a community leader. As MAF’s Client Success Manager, Doris is engaging with the community every day — enrolling clients in MAF’s programs, facilitating the monthly Lending Circles formations, supporting participants throughout their journey, and connecting participants with the best resources for their circumstances and needs. Throughout her nine years at MAF, she has always placed the community at the center of her work. In honor of her incredible tenure, we asked her to share a few reflections on her experience:

How did you first learn about MAF?

DV: One day, I was attending a school council meeting at Sanchez Elementary School and as the principal was speaking, I found myself going back and forth between nodding in agreement and shaking my head in disagreement to whatever he was saying. Suddenly, someone tapped me on my shoulder and said ‘you should speak up and say something if you disagree.’ She could tell that something was on the tip of my tongue, but I was hesitant to speak up. Little did I know that this person was going to be the someone who led me to a lot of really incredible opportunities in life. After this incident, I started getting more involved with school groups (PTA, SSC, ELAC). I didn’t quite have a vision for the work just yet, but I knew that I wanted to make a difference in my kids lives. Soon enough, the woman who had encouraged me to speak up during the school council meeting —  Lorena — was training me to be an organizer and a leader. Little by little, I started volunteering more of my time with San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP), a non profit based in San Francisco, and Lorena was also working with them. As I attended more trainings and rallies, I slowly began to understand the system behind organizing. Eventually, Lorena started working at MAF, and when a position opened up, she told me about it and I decided to apply.

What inspires you to do this work?

DV: My family inspires me. As an immigrant, I know the struggle of coming to a new country and not knowing what opportunities this new country offers. When my dad moved from El Salvador to the U.S, I didn’t hear from my dad for weeks. I knew that he had gone to another country, but I didn’t realize there was an immigration status attached to that. My dad eventually sent for us to come to the U.S, and at first, I didn’t want to be here {U.S.}. In El Salvador, I felt more freedom to be a child and I had the support of my family. I was always very close to my abuelitos. When I moved to the U.S., I had to learn a new language and navigate a new school system. Additionally, my family was going through their own set of financial struggles. My dad was the only one working, and sometimes, we didn’t have food for dinner. I recall my mother and I going to the local store to buy ‘TV dinners’ or standing in line at food banks. Though my parents were always able to financially support our family, we were definitely struggling financially. Even so, my parents never really talked to me about managing finances or what it meant to be in debt. As an independent adult, and especially after I became a mother, I experienced my own set of financial struggles. When I first started working at MAF, my former colleague Alex was MAF’s financial coach at the time. He started guiding me on how to manage my debt and pay it down. I would take part in the financial classes and workshops he would facilitate, and as I started to learn more about managing finances, this topic became really interesting to me. Managing finances is such a huge part of our day-to-day life. Slowly, I was also able to get out of debt.

Oftentimes, when I listen to the stories that our clients share about being in total debt, struggling to support their family back home, those stories start to become part of me and I think back to my own experiences. I feel a strong need to give back by assisting our community be part of the financial system.

Given that MAF’s work is rooted in ‘trust,’ how did you build trust with the community?

DV: I think I built trust by taking the time to listen to each person who walked through the door and providing them with that space and time to open up. At the beginning, I was afraid to get too involved because I’m naturally a very empathetic and emotional person. There have been times that a client has been on my mind for days, weeks, months, and sometimes, even years. But even if I’m bombarded with work, if a client walks in and I see that they want to talk about something, my time is given to them. Sometimes, we just need someone to listen to us. Most of the time, that’s what I end up doing. There are some clients that I’ve worked with since 2009, and I feel like they’ve made me part of their family. I feel like I’m very lucky to have clients that are so thoughtful — clients who think about me even when they shouldn’t. Over the years, I’ve been able to build a strong relationship with every person that walks through MAF’s door.

How has the way you’ve approached your work evolved over the past nine years?

DV: All my life, I’ve known that I love working and meeting people. When I first started working at MAF, I had very little formal experience working with the community. Most of my prior experience involved the organizing work I did within the school districts. When I started working at MAF, I didn’t know what this work would require. In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I was giving my 100% because I felt as if I didn’t have all of the answers to the questions clients were asking. It took a lot of independent research to really understand the issues affecting the community and how I can refer them to the right resources. I had no idea that there was such a strong ecosystem of nonprofit organizations in San Francisco. Over the years, I’ve made it a point to get to know these organizations and build my knowledge and relationships with my companeros en la lucha of where to refer clients for different resources.

Even if I can’t help someone in the moment, I feel it’s important to treat everyone with respect, make the effort to direct them to another resource, and offer whatever support I can.

Given that you started working with youth and organizing in the K-12 education space, what your advice to youth?

For me, personally, Lorena, one of my mentors, saw a potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. It’s why I make it a point to always see the incredible potential in everyone who walks through MAF’s doors. I want everyone to know that they are on this earth for a reason. Maybe the reason is not clear right now, but at some point you will realize why you’re here and what you need to make of it. That’s why you can never give up.