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Victoria Villarreal

FullSizeRender By Lauren Goodwin

Growing up in South Houston, near Pearland, Victoria has always been interested in politics and what happens in the world around her and beyond. As a daughter of parents who have always been involved in service, she learned to become intuitive about her surroundings, thus leading her to earning her degree in Political Science and minoring in Legal Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio College. She states that, “government is involved in every aspect of your life so it’s good to know what you’re getting involved in," which makes her more active because of her knowledge of how the government works and what is going on in her own city.

Victoria’s parents taught her at a very young age to be thankful for what she has and to give back what she received as a child, which was a loving environment filled with a major influence on education and overall bettering oneself for the present as well as the future. With that, Victoria knew she wanted to be involved in the school system, not by conventional teaching, but assisting in some way and helping inner-city students where they seem to need it most: literacy.

As an Education Workforce Manager at the East End Chamber of Commerce, Victoria develops programs for East Downtown. Having been developing these initiatives since April 2015, Victoria is helping to boost our economy by educating and turning out better business professionals who are competent and can lead us into prosperity. She encourages the folks she designs programs for in particular, to earn some sort of higher education so that they can rise to meet and surpass even their own expectations of themselves.

Both of her parents earned their associates degrees and aspired to go back and earn their bachelor’s degrees, but the children came and having a career to provide for their family was prevalent and more important at the time. Victoria and her three siblings, one older and two younger, were always encouraged by their parents to either complete their bachelor’s degrees or earn a certificate of higher education. Her older brother graduated from college, the younger brother is nearly graduated from the Fire Academy and her younger sister is a freshman at Baylor University. Their parents made sure their kids knew that not everyone was able to afford college and they should feel lucky enough to get to go to school every day.

Reading has always meant love to Victoria. She's been in love with reading ever since she learned how and hasn’t slowed down since. Her goal is to read a new book once a month, which is a great feat if you knew her schedule. Most of us just want to finish a new season of The Walking Dead in one month. Even with the people she loves the most, she instills the importance of reading and knowledge into them and their newborn children by giving books at baby showers so their own little one can start their first home library.

In addition to working for the East End Chamber of Commerce and teaching children once a month, she is part of the executive leadership team for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s Young Professionals Group. She’s been on the committee almost since its start and has loved every aspect of it. She has a passion for literacy and unites that drive with the rest of the committee board of the YPG. She realizes now how many children can’t read or don’t have access to books and wants to be a part of that change in society. Being a part of the Executive Leadership Team has provided a stage for her to do just that when they volunteer year-round and raise money to donate at their annual Jungle Book Gala. The Foundation and the YPG appreciate all of Victoria’s hard work and massive dedication to the literacy cause and look forward to her continued growth and knowledge.

Chatina Thompson

chatina thompson pic 2Chatina Thompson has two children who attended the Summer Literacy Camps at Clayton Homes with The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. "My kids are so intrigued with this program. The first thing I woke up to this morning was, "Mommy, can we go to the community building for school today?" My kids love learning," said Chatina. "I love to take them to anything I can. But, many parents in this community are not like that. Many mothers just sit on the couch watching TV, and their children just go play. It makes me want to just go knock on their doors and say, hey, there is a literacy camp going on!"

After asking what her thoughts on the literacy problem in Houston was, Chatina replied, "The problem that is going on is not located inside the schools, but in the outside community. We need to fix the outside community, so we can fix the bigger problem. The biggest thing that we need to do is pay more attention to our children. We need to provide them with the learning materials that they need and make them excited to go to summer camps."

LaTisha

latisha picLaTisha  works as a Residents Service Specialist in one of Houston’s affordable housing communities.  Her community serves individuals and families whose income level makes it difficult to afford a traditional apartment.  Most of the families that she serves are either black or Hispanic with 47% of the people living in this zip code having never completed high school. LaTisha believes that regardless of the parents education level, their “mindset” is the most important part. She says that some kids feel like they don’t need an education because their parents didn’t have one, while others are pushed to achieve because their parents never did. “The main thing with these type of communities is consistency.”  “If they come into a program and there is a large gap between trainings or camps then they forget about it. “Their minds are on other things like getting their lights turned back on”

When asked if she sees a direct correlation between low literacy and poverty. LaTisha responded, “It is, but you also have to consider other factors.  It could be generational…it could be their priorities.”

Ashley Danna

DSC_0156 By Ashley Danna

When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to change the world – no matter how insignificant that change may be. Just like any other millennial, I wanted to make my mark. My impact. My legacy. It terrified me to think that I would leave this world in the same condition as it was when I arrived. In my opinion, there is something to be said for being a millennial. Sometimes we have a difficult time grasping reality because our dreams may often be out of reach as we grew up being told we can do anything and be anyone we wanted to be. Yet, we are so resilient given the amount of exposure to injustice and violence through easily accessible media and news outlets. 

My “VISTA sista” Sara and I recently went to see the new movie 13 Hours where we were exposed to the true story of injustice and violence in Libya, and the detrimental effects it had on the United States in 2012. In countries like Libya, Americans are either trying to mitigate the violence and/or protect our own country. But as we learned, our efforts may not prevail. Seeing this story come to life on screen brought us both an overwhelming sense of helplessness for people living in countries that are not safe. Above all else, these people remain in their country surrounded by injustice and violence without much to do except fear the unknown.
As I’m over halfway through my 2nd year as a VISTA, I’m already familiar with these moments of feeling helpless about issues out of my control. I have met many VISTA members who joined AmeriCorps because they believed they could be that mark. That impact. That legacy. Just like me. Most days I feel like, as a VISTA, I’m making a difference and fulfilling my purpose. Some days I’m humbled by seemingly how insignificant I am in comparison to the injustice and violence that is still prevalent today.
 John F. Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
 As a VISTA, this is what I remind myself of frequently because as VISTAs we are, to a certain capacity, THE mark. THE impact. THE legacy. Nevertheless there is so much more to be done, and if we can be that seemingly insignificant ripple of hope, we can create a million other ripples. My hope is to continue to be that ripple of hope at the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, providing resources for nonprofits that are also trying to be that ripple of hope. Because of these collective ripples, I can sometimes see the change that is building up our people; our community; and maybe one day – our world. 

Jose Paulo Calvillo

DSC_0104 Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Jose Paulo Calvillo and his two brothers focused on making good grades to better themselves for the future. Their mother, a teacher, and their father, a civil service worker and assistant principal during Jose’s grade school years, instilled the value of education early on and encouraged their boys to apply themselves to achieve success. Mr. Jesus and Mrs. Maria Diana Calvillo were first generation college graduates and Jose counts himself blessed to have continued the educational legacy they started.

Jose, himself, attended Lady of the Lake University where he majored in music and double-minored in Philosophy and Religion. Jose realized his passion for music as he wrote and performed songs on the guitar and piano and sang in the church choir growing up. When asked why he chose a music degree, he answered, “I simply wasn’t interested in anything else.”

This passion for fine art helped excel Jose into the role he is in today – Director of Operations for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation., As one of only two employees on board since the very beginning, the second being Foundation President, Dr. Julie Baker Finck, Jose works tirelessly to create an office space that inspires collaboration and harmony among employees.

Prior to his role at the Foundation, Jose was Executive Assistant to the Chief Academic Officer of the Houston Independent School District. In that role he gained much experience in the general operations of an organization and learned how to take an organization from “just running” to “running smoothly and steadily.”

But Jose is not all work and no play – he has a softer, fun side that performed as a DJ during his college years, and continues now to enjoy his secret passion – erecting buildings and airplanes out of LEGOs! See, Jose is still using that fine art mentality to create masterpieces inside and outside of work.

When asked about his current professional role, Jose expresses that being with the Foundation is “the most rewarding work he’s ever done.” The organization has helped him “build character, develop professionally, and remain constantly vigilant.” As such, he has been an incredible asset to the organization encouraging unity, thoughtfulness and cheer.

"Looking Glamorous on a Shoestring Budget"

Shoestring.jpg By Tiffaney Hunter, CCO Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

I am a proud member of the American Marketing Association of Houston and serve on the Nonprofit Special Interest Group (SIG) Committee. Our team recently hosted its first workshop of the year: “Looking Glamorous on a Shoestring Budget, “ an informative presentation that featured panelists Christian Brown, director of marketing & public relations for The Houston Ballet; Robin Tooms, vice president of strategy  for Savage Brands and Sarah McDonner, founder and executive director of ECHOrchestra. Each of the speakers shared creative and cost-effective ways for nonprofits to do more with less, while still looking good; to create an image and style within budget; to know where to put their marketing dollars; and ways to know what can be paid for versus what should be done internally. Over 40 nonprofit marketing professionals attended and were able to walk away with key nuggets to apply towards their marketing and communication strategies.

Sara Amin - AmeriCorps VISTA

Sara Photo By Lauren Goodwin

Sara Amin is an incredible young woman who is devoting a year of her life to serve others working as an AmeriCorps VISTA at a nonprofit in Houston, TX. AmeriCorps VISTA members are passionate and committed to their mission to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. Members make a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. They focus their efforts to build the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. Sara comes from a tight-knit family in Rockville, Maryland where she grew up. Her family and all of her closest friends are still there while she traveled across country to come to Houston, TX to serve. Her father is of Muslim descent and her mother was born and raised here in the states. They met while both working at Riggs National Bank in D.C. and would soon fall in love and get married. Sara’s father received his undergraduate degree in Economics at Cairo University in Egypt and later earned his Ph.D. from George Washington University. Her mother, a Linguistics major in college was nearly finished with her Doctoral degree when Sara showed up on the scene and plans to return to school during retirement. Sara believes this overarching desire of both parents to continue to seek knowledge is why the emphasis on education was brought upon her at such a young age. Sara has always appreciated reading and writing, but found herself truly falling in love with it while reading “Hamlet” her senior year of high school. Shakespeare’s book sparked that love of reading in Sara and she hasn’t stopped enjoying it since! She feels it’s extremely important for parents to give their children knowledge, almost as important as giving them love and compassion. Sara says that, “the world needs to understand that if you don’t educate the entire populace, the country itself will not thrive”. Some countries and men are so set on holding women back, they don’t realize they’re holding themselves back, which is “the driving force behind [her] father’s passion” … and now her passion. With a Bachelor’s degree from University of Maryland where she double-majored in Communications and Women’s Studies, Sara dreams of working at the UN, more specifically with UNIFEM or UNICEF which focus on women and children, respectively. . Her next career move will be a stepping stone towards obtaining that dream, realizing that passion of focusing on women’s rights, illiteracy, and education. As we will miss her terribly at the Foundation, we know she will do amazing things for our country and the world, and we wish her the absolute best.

Dwight Howard at the Houston Zoo

DSC_0598 By Lauren Goodwin

The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation was honored to participate in this great event hosted by the D12 Foundation at The Houston Zoo. Dwight spent some time in the morning with Jr. Zookeeper, JonMitchell Goode, an 8th grade student at McReynolds Middle School, who was selected by his essay on how he would be an excellent zookeeper. JonMitchell shared with Dwight his fun-filled adventures, such as the Cheetah Walk, his introduction to the Wild African dog pack and how the Houston Zoo works very hard to conserve these animals.

Dwight also took time in the Children’s Zoo to read to 10 of MD Anderson’s Family YMCA “Eager Readers” along with some special guests from the Zoo such as a chinchilla, a Flemish Giant rabbit, a beetle, and a South American armadillo, named Millie! Dwight was able to chat with, read to, and take photos with all of the children present at the Swap Shop. It was an exciting event filled with interesting facts about animals and fun activities going on the entire time. We are so glad that the D12 Foundation partnered with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation to participate in this wonderful event and to be able to donate our books to these kids from the YMCA. We look forward to many more activities like this!

Rodrigo (Story submitted by: Madyson Smith)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Rodrigo is a tutor and 6 month Staff Intern for Literacy Advance in Houston. Rodrigo was a small business owner, then he had a career change to work in nonprofit because he has a passion for volunteering.

After discussing the illiteracy problem in Houston and his work at Literacy Advance, Rodrigo said, "Every literacy organization is about kids [it seems], but here but at Literacy Advance it’s primarily about adults. Adults can really slip through the cracks.” He went on to say, “How is this a 2015 problem?”

“Prioritize what fulfills you.” –discussing the balance between working and volunteering

Rodrigo's advice for all English as a Second Language or Adult Basic Education learners at Literacy Advance is “Stick with it. Make a commitment to be here, to learn.”

Susan

Susan for blog Susan’s passion for reading began at a very young age and has continued throughout her life.  This clearly was a family trait and when Susan spoke of her mom, she said, “She was a big influence in my life”. Her mom was a librarian at a medical school. Susan’s father often joked and called her mom a “print eater” because she read so often and so quickly. Susan and her two older brothers got to listen to their mother read to them every night before bed. She specifically remembers her reading The Hobbit to them and then The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  “She would read one chapter to us each night, and we would beg for her to keep reading more.”

When Susan retired last year, she knew she had to look for something she could still do that involved reading. This led her to become involved with Read Houston Read this year where she had four students she read with each week. “With Read Houston Read, it is great that the children are reading from new books. There is nothing like holding a real book in your hands and that is something special that Read Houston Read brings to children who may not have books in their home.”

When asked about her overall experience with the kids this year she said, “It was very very rewarding, and I really really enjoyed it!”