16 Jun 19
my series on strong female founders, I had the pleasure of interviewing
Nancy Maldonado who joined the Chicano Federation of San Diego County
as a Senior Program Director in 2017. Her knowledge of community-based
research and her experience in leading the strategic development of
community-based programs and interventions propelled her to the position
of Chief Operating Officer in 2018. Nancy worked to improve the quality
of the Chicano Federation’s programs and services, and helped build a
strong foundation for long-term growth and innovation. In January 2019,
Nancy was named Chief Executive Officer of Chicano Federation.
holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science and a bachelor’s degree in
Kinesiology. She formerly owned and operated her own business developing
and implementing corporate wellness programs. Prior to joining the
Chicano Federation, Nancy served as the director of community health for
the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
work is centered around helping marginalized individuals and
communities, and I believe that desire to make a palpable difference in
other people’s lives stems from my upbringing. As a first generation
Mexican-American, I remember being a little girl and noticing how poorly
some people treated my parents because they had entry-level skills and
spoke English as a second language. I was helpless to do anything about
it, but I remember it vividly and it really impacted me. Since then,
I’ve always had a desire to find ways to empower underserved
communities. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that I am now the
CEO of an advocacy and social services non-profit organization that
serves low-income families and helps them achieve a better quality of
you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story
about the hard times that you faced when you first started your
life took an interesting turn when I unexpectedly became a single
mother. While I have a very supportive and loving family, we don’t live
near each other, so there I was: a single, working mom with no family
nearby. Parenting in general requires grit, but being a single parent
requires an increased level of grit and determination. There were
countless nights when I was up all night with a crying baby, and then
have to figure out a way to put my best foot forward at work the next
day. Doing this night after night without any relief or help has
certainly made for one of the most challenging times of my life. But
I’ve learned that through hardships, we can receive the amazing gift of
compassion — but only if we choose to embrace it. Because of my
experience, I am particularly passionate about helping other single
mothers. I already had an advanced degree and owned my own business when
I became a single mother, and it was still extremely challenging. In
fact, it still is. So, I can only imagine how tough it must be for
single mothers who might not have the advantages that I do.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
son was, and continues to be, my daily motivation. I want to be an
example to him and raise a man who meets fear with courage and works
outside of his comfort zone. Above all, I want to raise a man who is
kind and generous. I hope the example I set, and the work that I do, can
help him to be rooted in empathy and compassion for others.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
gave me the ability to dig deep and find strength when I was met with
challenges. It gave me the resolve to get up every day and try harder to
be a better mom and working professional. Grit made it possible for me
to juggle work meetings, preschool drop-offs, work deadlines, and
pediatrician appointments. It definitely helped turn things around for
me, and it still plays a role as I try to balance leading an amazing
organization that so many people turn to for assistance while still
being an active and present mom.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
I have a beautiful, healthy, spirited six-year-old boy. I have the
honor of leading a non-profit organization with a deep, powerful history
of empowering others and helping people find their voice. I’d say
things are going well and I am thankful for that every day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
makes the Chicano Federation stand out is the impact that our programs
make in people’s lives. Just last week, I had a conversation with a man
who told me that his family utilized Chicano Federation’s services many
years ago. He talked about his father, and how reluctant his father was
to accept assistance, but that he trusted Chicano Federation because of
the history of the organization and the wonderful people who were
associated with it. Today, this man has a beautiful family, and owns and
operates his own business. He is also very active in the San Diego
community and gives back in so many ways. He described Chicano
Federation as an organization who supports and encourages families when
they need it most. I regularly hear stories about the real,
life-changing impact that Chicano Federation makes and how our programs
and services address critical needs for our community.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
me, the key is finding an organization whose mission you truly believe
in. I love what I do because the important work my team does has a real,
tangible, life-changing impact. When you believe in the cause, it
doesn’t feel like work. I truly believe that spreading kindness is the
most amazing way to find a healthy sense of importance in our lives.
of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is
there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get
you to where you are? Can you share a story?
was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who dedicated their entire
lives to ensuring that me and my brothers had every opportunity to
succeed. My parents came to this country with very little, but through
hard work and determination, they built a beautiful life for our family.
They left a country that they knew and loved for the sole purpose of
ensuring that their children would have opportunities that they never
had. It was an incredible act of selflessness, and through their
example, they instilled in me a relentless determination to be better
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
try to be an inspirational leader to my team because they in turn can
encourage and motivate the families we work with. I lead a team of 65
individuals whose work directly impacts over 8,000 people each year. I
believe that if I can help my team to see the small but significant role
they play in the lives of the people who turn to us for assistance,
together we can bring some goodness and positivity to our community and
to the world.
on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can
develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
For me it was extremely important to find something that feels like a
natural calling. That required actively searching until I found what I
was passionate about. I worked for and volunteered for numerous
different non-profits before I found where I was truly meant to be.
It is also important to find a role model, mentor or coach to help you
improve. I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way who have helped
me discover the type of leader I want to be. One of the interesting
things I’ve discovered about mentoring is that some of the most valuable
lessons I’ve learned have come from coaching others. I’ve never met
someone who didn’t have something to teach me.
One of the things I have found most helpful is to surround myself with
gritty people. I am fortunate to have a network of supportive and caring
women who inspire, motivate and challenge me every day.
Something that I’ve had to work hard at is reframing the way I look at
mistakes or failures, and understanding that it’s ok to make mistakes
and fail at something, but it’s not OK to give up or quit. I still have
to remind myself that mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn,
grow and improve.
The other thing that I’ve had to work on is being comfortable with
being uncomfortable. Early on in my career, when I often found myself in
a room full of executives who were mostly male and white, I had to
reassure myself that it was OK to be uncomfortable and that discomfort
didn’t mean I wasn’t qualified or didn’t belong in that room.
are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that
would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what
would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. ☺
would start a national non-profit to educate, help, encourage and
support single mothers. When I became a single mother, I searched for
organizations or support groups that I could join, and I found that
there wasn’t much available. I would start a movement that provides
single mothers with resources and physical, emotional, and mental
support. Not only would this help mothers, but it would also
significantly help children. This would have a profound and lasting
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please connect with the Chicano Federationon Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.