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Blog Post

How I got here: My journey to empowering people with SE2 

January 23, 2023

I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I lived most of my life in a colorful, people-powered neighborhood.

Our neighborhood was built on immigrant energy, which flowed in my family for four generations before it found me. My great-grandparents built the neighborhood’s first church alongside recent transplants from Ireland, Mexico and the Middle East.

Today, our neighborhood is a melted pot of those cultures — as am I.

People came together in my neighborhood to provide child care for working mothers, hot meals for the hungry and health care for the uninsured.

Public schools usually didn’t offer much opportunity. Still, adults found a way to create experiences for children and share wisdom through storytelling. Those stories were our connection to las raices — the roots — of our culture, which we held onto in a white-knuckled way.

My experience growing up taught me that a community can provide brilliantly where systems frequently fail.

I moved from my hometown to attend DePaul University in Chicago. There, I studied business but became fascinated with pondering the values of people.

I wondered: What makes our behaviors so predictable? Why do our values divide us at times? How did the values of my immigrant grandparents complement each other? Finding the intersections of belief systems and values brought me hope when I could not understand how disconnection and inequity had been normalized in our society.

Despite being raised Catholic, I generally had no interest in studying matters of faith. Yet, through a required course at my Catholic University, I found a Catholic Studies professor who allowed me to ponder the behavioral angle of religion. I picked up a minor in theology and worked for various religious organizations along my journey to graduation.

I graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chicago, like everywhere, was recovering from an excruciating and overwhelming year of loss. At the same time, my hometown was trying to heal from the tragedy of George Floyd and the institutional war on people’s power.

I felt there was too much work to be done fueling the people during their healing process to focus on starting my career. I dedicated the next year to volunteering full-time, serving people experiencing homelessness in Denver.

Over my service year, I was allowed to challenge the prioritization of profit over people, which was central to the teachings of business school. I learned about urban agriculture, community cooperation, environmentalism and more. I was able to impact the lives and health of people by showing up to advocate for them everyday.

As a young person, I, too, benefitted from the support of food banks, community clinics, after-school programs, and especially from the arms of my community. It was a joyful privilege to be on the other side of giving.

I knew I could not leave service behind when my service year ended. Nor could I leave my passion for the planet and sustainability.

I’ve always believed in fate from the universe, but it felt undeniable when, during the last hour of my last day of service work, my supervisor forwarded me an email from SE2, which was at the time looking for youth advisors.

I did my research and fell in love with this agency which focuses on empowering people. I was lucky to start at SE2 in August as a youth advisor and am grateful to be here now as an account coordinator. I’m always learning, ever-changing and constantly impressed with the work and values of my colleagues.

Most of all, I am blessed to work alongside a group of people who share my core belief: People are power.

Graciella Saucedo-Rivera is a youth advisor and account coordinator with SE2.