Care Force Alumni Spotlight: Fabiola Meza
On October 25, 2021, Allison Anderson, Stuart Allen and I were fortunate enough to interview Fabiola Meza, who served as a First Year AmeriCorps member with City Year San Jose ‘16, and then as a Team Leader in San Jose ‘17, before becoming a member of Team Care Force in ‘18. Since graduating Team Care Force, Fabiola has worked on staff as a Development Coordinator for City Year San Jose.
Caitlyn: What was one of your favorite moments from your first corps year?
Fabiola: One of my favorite, favorite memories is actually team related. Our team was really diverse and it was also big for my first year—it was a team of twelve corps members, our team leader, and then our impact manager. We were serving at a middle school, Ocala. This memory is my favorite because it was the first time I had worked with so many individuals who were so different. And so, it was a really interesting challenge at the beginning. The reason these memories are my favorite is because we really got to bond and I’m still close friends with many of my team from that year.
There were two days that we had team days. One day was a basketball day, so we played against each other on a basketball court. I have no skills whatsoever and neither did half of my team and so the guys on our team that did know how to play were always frustrated at us girls when we couldn’t do anything, but it was so funny to see each other really actively trying. I will say that our team was definitely competitive, even though we were not good at basketball. So, trying to psyche out the other person, being silly while attempting to grab a basketball and trying to fake out my really tall after school partner who knows how to play basketball, it was a mess but was a really fun memory. There was so much laughing and giggling, even though it was really cold in November.
Hugh: And Fabiola, how many people from that team came back as either team leaders or seconds years?
Fabiola: Yes, it was five of us altogether. There were four of us that became team leaders. They went to the three middle schools, I went to an elementary school, and then my other friend, also on our team came back. She returned as a second year, just at a different school.
Stuart: I’m especially interested because you’ve had a unique progression through City Year. Could you talk about what attracted you to the organization initially, why you wanted to be a Team Leader and then what motivated you to join Care Force after that?
Fabiola: I initially found City Year when I was finishing my undergrad with the intentions of teaching and someone came to do an information session at a club I was involved in. It seemed to me like a fun and easy way to see if I really wanted to do teaching and get more experience. In the classes that I took I didn’t get as much experience as I wanted to. At the beginning I had this idea of being a teacher because nothing else interested me besides helping others and teaching. When I found City Year, I said I’ll get some experience, I will learn a little bit, and it’ll be interesting!
For a team leader, I really enjoyed what I was doing in schools. I liked working with the students, being able to have those relationships with my team and the staff at the school. Seeing students thriving and enjoying being at school was just something that I loved to see. I thought I’m enjoying my year and I feel that I have something to give for next year’s corps members to help them also have an enjoyable year. I couldn’t say that I would make it an easy year for them because being in City Year is not easy. There are so many things that make it difficult and so wanting to help out the next corps, as well as being able to be at a school to work with students and have them bring that level of joy to my life was also a reason why I decided to stay. And then, as for Care Force, it was also along this line of I really love what we’re doing. Also, I’ve always really enjoyed working with my hands, I’m a very crafty person. I got a chance to be part of some of the service events that were happening during my first year. It was NVIDIA first in the wintertime and then after that was MLK.
And then towards the end of my first year, we were picking legacy projects to do. And so, at my school, I noticed that there was this outside area that our students had lunch, when it wasn’t raining. There just never seemed to be enough seating outside, and I also noticed that our kiddos loved to hang out next to this one tree. And so, I called up my good friend and buddy Hugh and said, “Hey, I have this idea to make a bench around a tree. I don’t know the math, but I know you do”. Then I sent him pictures of the tree in the area and my thoughts on it and what we wanted to do. Also, it just so happened that there was also a little memorial on the ground in front of that tree. I don’t quite remember the story of it, but I do know that it involved a student whose family lived really close by. I believe the student passed away. I had our team out there digging and trenching and leveling out stuff and building the wooden bench. The final day that we finished the bench, someone from the neighborhood, who was part of the family for who that memorial was for, came up to the principal during after school space. They went to go see it, were very thankful to the principal and whatnot, and I had had no idea the story behind this memorial beforehand, but now it serves as more than just seating area under this one shaded tree. And I just had so much fun doing all aspects of the project; from here is the idea, to “Hugh make this a possibility”, to leading my team members, to seeing the finished product and everyone coming together and doing it. It was really, really cool. Remembering that as well as in my second year as a team leader participating in other events that Hugh and Care Force were leading, that just really made me want to apply.
Hugh: Let me add two things for context. I got requests from AmeriCorps member a lot in San Jose because I was in the office all the time. Fabiola came with photos and a scaled drawing of exactly how the bench would fit around the tree, to which I said, “Oh, this is quite detailed and I can definitely work with this”. The second thing is the principle said that the family used to return every year. They came back that following year and everybody was brought to tears because they didn’t expect it to be redone that way. There was a plaque there, but it wasn’t really highlighted. And we tried to do our best job of highlighting the plaque within the design. It was really cool because Fabiola just said “Oh, we need more seating. We have this tree the kids always sit under. It would be nice to have something around it”. We had just done wrap around benches for the first time, so I was really excited about it. We also happened to have extra lumber in the storage unit because we had overordered for an event, so it was all kind of serendipitous. They did it as a team day which was also cool, and the project overall was great. It speaks to the kind of person Fabiola is.
Stuart: The transition from Team Leader to Care Force is so unusual. How was that transition moving from one role to another?
Fabiola: Yeah, that’s a great question. It was on my mind at the beginning, it was something I talked to Molly the program manager about. This also has a lot to do with my overall personality and who I am as a person. I’m not the extroverted big personality; I’m more on the introverted side, offering assistance in the background that’s how I tend to approach situations that are overwhelming for me.
My team was confident in who they were. I had been building my confidence since I joined City Year and I had been finding my voice as I went through my service years. And so, I think that was that was definitely one of the challenges. I’m a very introverted person, I need to see how everybody else is, to then figure out how can I best be myself in this space. I had learned during my year as a team leader how to step back a bit from offering too much support to my team to offering support when either I clearly saw they needed it or when there was some kind of conflict that was brewing that I needed to step in on.
And so I think with my Care Force team, everyone was confident in what they were doing. There were times when because of people’s past experiences, people wanted to do things a certain way. That made it sometimes easy for me to step into that role of, “Okay, I hear what you’re saying and I hear what you’re saying. I think this is a good middle”. I think with my team leader experience, it was a little bit easier to be a middle kind of person which is also similar to my personality. I’m definitely a middle person that works to keep the peace, move forward, and move things along that way.
Caitlyn: What was your favorite event or activity on Care Force?
Fabiola: I have two favorite events and they’re my favorite for two very specific reasons. My first favorite (or one of my favorites) was the Synopsys event in 2018, in San Jose. That was really fun for me to be able to come back to my City Year site and see many people that I knew. When I arrived they were super welcoming, so that was one of my favorites for that obvious reason. We did a butterfly mural and a butterfly garden, that was great.
My second was an AT&T Event in Miami. We were on different flights because I believe we were coming from different places. We had a variety of events in the springtime and so other members of my team were coming from different areas and of course flights ended up being delayed. Sam was delayed and she was our manager for that event. About half the team was delayed. It was a team of six of us. Three of us arrived on Sunday and the other three didn’t arrive until Monday afternoon. The fun part was that we had done so many events already that it was pretty easy to get there and hit the ground running. Sam called the principal and said, “Hey these are my people. Please welcome them and show them around and they’ll get started”. That was really fun, that Sam trusted us. She knew that the three of us would get it done and that we would make a list of everything that needs to happen and get going. And I think the rest of the event, despite the fact that it was so darn hot, everything else about the project was really enjoyable!
Stuart: I’d love to know what was the biggest challenge that you faced on Care Force or alternatively what was something that surprised you?
Fabiola: The thing that surprised me was how seriously tired my body would be after an event. I am not someone who goes to the gym. I don’t participate in sports, I haven’t since high school, so this was a whole other realm. I thought that after my first two years standing around and being active with kids; I would be okay even if I knew I wasn’t in great shape. It was an adjustment at the beginning. Once we got into the fall though and had back-to-back events, that served as my form of exercise, so I did get a bit stronger. Learning that after a long day of lifting heavy items or bending over with your back, I had to take a hot shower or lay in bed and have a heating pad on my back. So that was an interesting surprise, but I made it and I’m stronger for it!
As for the challenge, I mentioned it earlier trying to find my place within the team of big personalities. Also, trying to find out how I can best work with each person. Working with just about everyone on the team required a slightly different strategy of sorts. Not that I would sit there and say this is my strategy for this person. No, that’s not what I’m saying, but just mentally knowing that with this person, this is what I need from you and I’ll say it and they’ll get to it. Knowing that with another person, I need to go into detail if we need to get something done.
Figuring that out and articulating it were challenges that I had to grow into, kind of like growing into my voice. I had started this journey since I joined City Year, but I think with Care Force that came out a lot more, in learning to work with my team and in leading people.
Caitlyn: We would love to know more about through your current position and some of those responsibilities.
Fabiola: Officially I am the Development Coordinator. Development being the fundraising team and coordinator being a helper for everything. The first year it was being a support for all the events that we ran in 2019 into 2020, as well as being the co-lead for MLK Day. My old partner Anthony and Hugh said I was the lead which was scary. That year was a bit of leading our volunteer events, and our biggest one was MLK. Then of course we went into the pandemic later that year, and so my attention shifted more towards marketing and communications. I was the person doing all the social media, the planning, the posting, the creation of the images, all that.
At the beginning of the second year, it was a lot of planning of how to streamline things and how to make things a little easier for myself. And then at the end of the second year, it was transitioning those things to my Operations Coordinator point. And this year I have more of a focus on volunteerism and creating the system so that we will have them for the future. City Year San José is not a very big site and so we don’t have a civic engagement team. Our department wants to do different kinds of volunteer engagement activities, and so planning ideas for that. We did a remote service activity which was our back-to-school pencil pouch care kits inspired by y’all! That was stressful but we completed it and the students are using them which is great! It’s those kinds of volunteerism, which can be a physical result that our volunteers do, but then we also have other volunteering activities that there’s no tangible result.
We have two programs. There’s the mentorship program that we’re doing right now. We’re engaging some of our corporate partners, as well as our alumni, and other people who can provide some guidance and wisdom to our corps members who are figuring out their career path right now. Then in the springtime we’re going to pilot a program called Volunteer Editors where external people are going to help our corps members make edits to their resumes as the end of the year starts getting closer. I get to be one of the wonderful co-leads to put those volunteer activities into practice and work to ensure that the system is sustainable for years to come after I’m no longer with the organization. That’s a bit of what I’m currently working on.
Stuart: If there is one insight that you wish that you had before you joined Care Force, what would it be?
Fabiola: One thing that I think is important to know or keep in mind more than anything is being able to express yourself well. And that’s definitely a challenge depending on where in your journey you are as either a person or a professional. Being able to express yourself in a way that’s both for the sake of understanding each other, like I’m trying to understand you as a person, and being able to communicate to work and finish a project together. I think being able to express yourself is something that’s very important in the Care Force line of work because y’all are together, unfortunately, on an isolated island for the most part. Being able to express and articulate what you need from each other is critical.
The second thing I think is important is to have a way to check yourself mentally. Mental health and self-care is something that we are a lot more aware of now then say when I was a first year corps member in 2016. Being able to check in with yourself of where am I, how can I deal with it, and dealing with it in whatever way is the best for you. For myself, that would be sitting in my room, thinking about whatever happened and breaking it down step by step: where I could have done something different, where I wish this person had reacted, how I can do better for next times, or if it means writing down my feelings and then sharing it with the person later, or if it means talking to someone, whether that’s City Year related or not. There are many different ways, and I think it’s definitely a healthy thing to know at the beginning just like any other service year. This year is going to be hard in different ways but what do you have in your arsenal of tools to help yourself?
Caitlyn: Did you find any best practices while you were traveling for those things?
Fabiola: My girl teammates had their own personalities and I’m very glad that I was able to kind of gel with them in a way that they knew if I asked for space that I needed space. It definitely took a few trips to figure out what each of us needed in our space. For the most part once we got back to the hotel it was just shower, clean up, get ready for bed, and be ready to chill out. If I needed alone time, putting my huge headphones on that blocks out all the other noise or turning the music all the way up and just closing my eyes and not really meditating but being one in my silence because music was playing. If it wasn’t that then it was reading a book while music was on in the background. Those are the main two ways that I took care of myself during travel.
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