Sandra Mendez is a native form Arizona with her Hispanic family roots in the migrant worker community. “I graduated from high school and then I really needed to get a job to help my family so I gravitated toward the helping field, and started working in the Arizona Department of Economic Security where I have stayed for 23 years.”
Sandra started out as a caseworker determining clients their ability to receive Food stamps and has added program developer and contract administrator. She Learned Constantly – and eventually found her favorite assignment as a Community Action Director. It was this opportunity where she really embraced the work of real change through Community Action. “I think I can make the biggest impact addressing the causes of poverty by using my ability to identify areas where vulnerable populations really need help, either financial or infrastructure, and work to identify what that change needs to be and then pursue it aggressively.” Sandra’s network of colleagues has included statewide directors of Community Action who were her early mentors and taught her a lot about this work. Sandra identifies her ability to be assertive to the point it’s aggressive at times. Others would described her as a fighter or a contender, because when she pursues something she’s not going to let it go.
Sandra deftly keeps her fingers in State policy development, program development, and legislative analysis. However, writing a contract is not as impactful as watching a family become sustainable or watching a young person being able to go to college and break the generational cycle of poverty—that is what she finds exciting.
When asked if she had the opportunity to change the perception of others, what would be the issue? “If I could change people’s perceptions of each other in relation to race I could eradicate racism– that’s what I would do. The social justice arena as it relates to poverty indicators are directly related to race. So those two are working together. It’s the way that we perceive one another. Second, I could change people’s perception of vulnerable populations living in poverty. People living in poverty are not the problem, they’re the result of a problem.”
When asked about how she sees herself stepping into advocacy for something that needs to be changed, Sandra replied that she works from her gut.
“I know when something is not operating effectively or just wrong. I think the place where I can make the biggest impact is my ability to identify areas where vulnerable individuals really need help, either financial or infrastructure and identify what that change needs to be and then pursue it aggressively.” She says: “ I don’t give up. I just keep plugging away. I don’t take no for an answer. I know intuitively that we can do better; we can do more. I learned from my parents – “No te dejes Sandra, tu no te dejes” it means Sandra don’t let anything or anyone get to you or push you around, you can be the bigger person in the room.” “When you know something is right and you’re on the right course, DO NOT give up.”