Carlos Almendárez, a 2003 graduate of UC Berkeley, is the Project Director for Bay Area Community Resources (BACR). He oversees 12 after-school programs for San Francisco Unified School District. His passion for sports, education, community involvement, and work-life balance led him to a job that he loves – working with students, people, and sports. In this interview, he talks about finding the career you love, why he chose not to pursue graduate school, and the value experience plays in finding the right career.
What is your education and background?
I’d like to think my story is pretty different. I was born in Los Angeles, California. English was my second language (Spanish being first). My parents were Salvadorian immigrants who came to this country with very little education. I was raised by a single mother and never really met my father.
In college, I studied history with a focus on modern US and Latin American political movements. I took a course from Leon Litwack, a Pulitzer Prize winning professor, who inspired me to pursue History as a major.
Tell me more about the company that you work for and your field of expertise.
Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), founded in 1976, promotes the healthy development of individuals, families and communities through direct services, volunteerism and partnerships in the San Francisco Bay Area. My area of expertise is in management of after-school programs. I am involved in hiring of staff, staff development, grant writing, program development and technical support for after school programs.
How did you decide to get into this field?
In high school I was driven by my desire to be a lawyer. I did all the things I thought a lawyer should do – I was on the speech and debate team in college and had an internship at the District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
My sophomore year, I needed a few units and saw a sign for a mentoring program at a nearby middle school in Berkeley that needed volunteers. This was my solution. I was a part of the Youth Support Program (YSP) until I graduated in 2003. After my time at YSP it was clear to me that I LOVED working with students and derived great satisfaction from helping others, especially low-income and academically at-risk students.
One thing that always helped me stay out of trouble as a kid was sports. I played soccer, basketball and football as and stayed out of enough serious trouble to do well in school. My goal was to provide an outlet for inner city youth through the one thing I loved: sports.
What was your first job out of college? How did you end up at BACR?
My first job out of college was a reflection of who I was. I decided to combine the two things I loved the most: working with youth and sports. I signed up to work with a non-profit organization called Sports4kids (now called Playworks). Playworks is a “national nonprofit organization that supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to schools at recess and throughout the entire school day.”
How did the job search in college compare to your peers?
As a college grad you have so many options and so many questions to ask yourself: Do you want money? Do you want a title? Do you want to be fulfilled? Figuring out what job led to what was difficult. I went into the nonprofit world knowing I wouldn’t get paid much. but convinced I would love every day of it. I did and I have never looked back.
A rigorous college education taught me to work well under pressure, to multitask, and also gave me the ability to look beyond what is obvious. While the nonprofit world is motivated by passion and caring, a solid college education will help you advance in your career.
Did you do any advanced training or graduate work to prepare yourself for this field?
While I’m an educator, I chose to not pursue graduate school. For one, I felt the cost was prohibitive given the profession I am in. Had I gone into law I could have justified the expense given the income, but in the nonprofit sector I couldn’t see spending $50,000 for a year of school when my income wouldn’t support such an expense. I also realized that experience is much more valuable than a degree in my particular setting. My goal was to learn from very able mentors and rise through the ranks. I tend to believe that our generation is overeducated and under-experienced.
What does your job look like on a daily basis? What do you “do”?
The beauty of my current position is that the “box” does not exist. I am constantly looking for ways to improve program, help staff or troubleshoot problems. Since I work with 12 schools and many partner organizations I could be in a meeting at SF State or Berkeley or on opposite sides of town on any given day.
I directly supervise 12 full time staff and indirectly oversee 70 part time staff. I work about 50 hours a week, but have the flexibility to have some of those hours be on the weekend and in the evenings when need be.
I’m a multi-tasker so I enjoy the idea of being at many places and not having one day look like the other. For the most part I manage my own time. Personality-wise, I have never been the type of person that enjoys being told what to do. The best work environment for me is having a knowledgeable and supportive supervisor who believes in my judgment and ability and lets me produce without micro-managing.
What is unique about your job that you didn’t otherwise anticipate while in school?
My career is different than my educational experience in that UC Berkeley was a very competitive place and the nonprofit sector is not. I actually think this is a downside to the nonprofit sector – a lack of competition and corporate-style execution. I have encountered many nonprofits that are far too nonchalant in their operations and I feel could benefit a bit from an increased sense of urgency.
Is there anything you wish you had learned about your field while you were in school?
I recently read an article that discussed how schools help to think about money and prestige upon graduation. That was certainly the case at my school. Senior year people sat around discussing the firms they were going to work for, signing bonuses and things of that nature. I don’t think the school or the culture really forces to students to think about quality of life and impact we have on our community. I was confident that my work would make me happy and at the same time help others around me.
What are your favorite things about your job?
For starters, I love waking up and knowing that my work will help improve the community. I love knowing that I work for an organization that is supportive of me and allows me a work/life balance which allows me to pursue my hobbies and spend time with my friends and family. Lastly, I enjoy knowing that our work will help to inspire a future generation of leaders. In all the years I’ve worked in education I’ve seen many students go to college and start to make an impact in their communities. I’m always proud to know that in some very small way I helped them reach their potential.
What does “work-life balance” mean to you, and how do you maintain a work-life balance?
I love this question. Work-life balance means knowing that your work does not get in the way of your happiness. The balance is in knowing you can raise a family, pursue hobbies or be able to execute your job without it having an adverse affect on the things that make you feel complete as a person.
Personally, my job allows me the flexibility to be away on the weekends so I can visit family in Los Angeles, compete in races, travel across the US, and see my family. It’s something I am extremely grateful for and would never give up in exchange for a higher salary.
What advice do you have for recent college grads and new employees? Any words of encouragement or advice to offer?
In my years counseling high school students I would always ask: what do you love to do?
Based on this answer – go in that direction. Don’t sell yourself by pursuing that you are not passionate about. If you love to play sports, work in that field. I loved sports all my life and it brings a lot of happiness to my life and I chose to coach children at the elementary level. I loved inspiring young people to pursue education and every day I find myself creating opportunities for youth to connect with their schools and communities.
To learn more about Bay Area Community Resources, or learn more about Carlos’ experiences, contact Sarah or visit the BACR website.
“Professional Focus” is a series of interviews with young professionals in San Francisco exploring different job fields and the journey from academia into the working world. Previous interviews have covered Pharmaceutical Consulting, Sports Medicine, and Web Development and Technology Consulting.—
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