From Growing to Giving: UnidosUS Alumna Turned Donor
As an alumna of UnidosUS, Betty Paugh Ortiz’s connection to our work is deeply meaningful on both personal and professional levels. “Both of my last names are powerful parts of my story. At [then] NCLR, I realized I could protect both parts of my identity,” Betty said. When she started working at UnidosUS, formerly NCLR, in 1994, she found herself among other young people exploring their identities and connection to their Latino heritage. In Betty’s case, she was from a bicultural household; her mom was from Puerto Rico and her dad was a Navy veteran from West Virginia.
The youngest of her siblings, Betty grew up with her parents and, for a time, her beloved abuelo on their family farm in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. Her parents, both from humble origins, worked tirelessly, but always made volunteering and giving back a priority. At the age of nine, she was volunteering at their community senior center and by the time she was 15, Betty was a volunteer translator for the parents of patients and medical staff at the local Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. This experience was enlightening. “It was empowering; it gave me a sense of purpose, that I could offer value and help transform lives,” Betty said.
While her family didn’t know what a college fair was, they were a loving and supportive household. When Betty was 18, and decided she wanted to go to Washington, DC to attend American University. While her parents, abuelo, and other relatives were unfamiliar with college, they supported her in her journey.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Betty stayed in the DC area, landing a job with the National Immigration Forum, and volunteering at Mary’s Center, a community health center and UnidosUS Affiliate. It was through her contacts at these organizations that she learned about UnidosUS and was ultimately hired by, then-Vice President, Emily Gantz McKay. Shortly thereafter, Betty was promoted to Director of Maternal and Child Health, reporting directly to Raul Yzaguirre, former UnidosUS President and CEO.
Betty credits UnidosUS and the exceptional people she had the chance to work with, and learn from, for much of her early career development. While Raul was in high demand and traveled a lot, Betty recalls he was genuinely invested in the development and growth of the young talent at the organization, including herself. “Raul encouraged me to go to grad school, wrote a letter of recommendation, and even put me in touch with Rev. Luis Cortés founder of Esperanza [an UnidosUS Affiliate] who helped open doors for my research work…on the development of NGOs in Cuba,” she said.
Betty explained “People like Raul, Emily, and Charles [Kamasaki, UnidosUS Senior Cabinet Advisor]—and countless others—took the time to teach, coach, and inspire so many of us. They were so patient,” she added. “They also challenged you and your beliefs. People like Charles would toss a book on your desk and say: ‘Think about that.’ It really was a university; we came out stronger, better, more prepared.”
So, when Betty—and her good friend Maria Gomez, President and CEO of Mary’s Center—attended an UnidosUS event celebrating Charles’ book Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Will Not Die a couple of years ago, she was inspired to give back to an organization that gave her so much. Betty joined the UnidosUS President’s Council, a group of committed donors dedicated to advancing the American Dream. Experiencing the book event was quite special, according to Betty. “The excellence the organization strives for was fully evident; I felt so proud,” she said.
Betty is grateful for the opportunities she had and all the support she received from UnidosUS. “I’m filled with gratitude for the time I spent there and for the work UnidosUS is doing. Now, more than ever, this is a critical time. It gives me—and so many others—a little peace of mind knowing we have Janet, the board, and staff advocating on our behalf,” she said. Indeed, for Betty, the most important role UnidosUS carries out is that of advocate for Latinos. “We need to stand behind what UnidosUS does.”
She is a strong believer in philanthropy at every and all levels and that there should be no shame in giving what is feasible, given each donor’s unique situation. “Every dollar counts. Twenty dollars matters. The power we can offer UnidosUS, and local affiliates, with even small donations is impactful,” she added.
Her experience as an alumna has been a significant part of Betty’s inspiration for being a donor. “Giving back is my way to say thank you for the investment UnidosUS made in me and continues to make in future generations,” she said.
Betty is now Vice President of Programs at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships which works to ensure that underserved students have the opportunity, skills, and knowledge to successfully pursue the education and training needed to achieve their career and life goals.
More than 25 years later, Betty continues to volunteer with Mary’s Center, doing everything from yard work to helping plan fundraisers, and in 2018 she received their Community Champion award. Her parents, also, recently celebrated their 60th anniversary. Betty makes her parents and community infinitely proud; she’s an exceptional role model. And we are reciprocally grateful to her for her steadfast support and commitment over the years!