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In honor of HOLA Alum turned Bridges Middle School Director Silvia Velazquez being named one of JCPenney’s “Leaders of Tomorrow,” we would like to honor two other alumnae who are also full-time staff members here on campus.

Sonia SalazarIMG_9664 – Class of ’05

Back in 2005, the year PAT High School Director Sonia Salazar graduated from HOLA, there wasn’t an alumni program in place.  However, that didn’t keep Sonia away.  Upon graduating from University of California Santa Barbara in 2009 with a B.A., she was ready to give back to the place where she had been encouraged to follow her heart.

“A pivotal moment for me at HOLA was having a safe space to work on my college applications. It was a space that motivated me to push harder in order to achieve my dream of attending college and starting a new chapter in my life.”

Ready to be on the other side of HOLA, Sonia returned to work as Silvia Velazquez’s program coordinator for four years. However, Sonia was determined to develop her skills as a mental health professional, and went back to school to gain her graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Oaks College.

Today, after all of Sonia’s education and career experience, HOLA still feels like her home. The now PAT High School Director shares, “It is a place in which I get to see our youth grow into young adults with dreams and aspirations, a place where lifelong friendships are established, passion is a driving force, collaboration happens for a common goal, and possibilities are limitless.”

When asked to reflect on her leadership at HOLA, Sonia admits, “To be honest I don’t like to use the term “leader” for myself, I consider myself more of a “peer-leader.” There is a Mayan phrase that perfectly explains my peer-leader stance: In Lak’Ech (I Am You and You Are Me). Every individual has strengths and qualities of a leader.  Sometimes they are hidden, but if we look deep enough, we begin to see them.” 

Sandie Villanueva– Class of ’10IMG_9672

Five years after Sonia graduated, Sandie Villanueva had also found a home at HOLA.

“HOLA was instrumental in helping me choose a college and finding sources for financial aid that really changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”

After two years in the PAT High School program, Sandie headed off to Loyola Marymount University as the first HOLA alum to enroll at the school.  She successfully double majored in political science and chicana/o studies, and became an Americorps Summer VISTA at HOLA after attaining her degree.

Through the years, Sandie stayed in touch with HOLA’s Alumni Director at the time, as well as fellow LMU alum Tony Brown.

Amidst her experiences and aspirations, her home away from home tugged at her heart. Being a first generation college graduate, Sandie felt compelled to give back to her community.

Today, Sandie is in the heart of HOLA’s Administration, working in the Development department. Hoping to pursue law, Sandie believes that working with grants and foundations to fill the needs of HOLA lends experience to her career interest in public policy.

Sandie states, “As an HOLA alumni and now an HOLA employee, I feel that I am in a unique position to help improve and strengthen our alumni network. These efforts, I think, capture a special leadership moment for me at HOLA, by having the never-ending desire to make a difference and inspiring action, in this case strengthening our alumni network.”


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