(Mennonite Education Agency/MHS) — Angela Hernandez is a young woman from central California who identifies as a Mexican-American. Through the ministries of the Mennonite church, she has found her passion and her call, and now she is helping other young leaders in the education and health care fields — especially people of color — to do the same.
Hernandez currently works two jobs: advising students in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Fresno Pacific University and serving as a therapist intern at Kings View Counseling Services, an organization connected with the caregiving network of MHS. That work led to her being invited to serve on the planning group for last year’s Mennonite Health Assembly (MHA) as a student, and this year she was asked to return for another stint planning the joint Education Leaders Gathering/MHA as a practicing professional.
“I’ve been really empowered,” Hernandez says. “I appreciate that I’ve been invited a second time not to meet a quota but because they value my voice. That opportunity to be a valuable part of a team has been really exciting for me, and now it puts me in a position to empower other people, too.”
One way she’s doing that is by spearheading the “Emerging Leaders” program at ELG/MHA, which takes place March 9-12 in Jacksonville, Florida. It encourages administrators to identify young adults in their organizations who have strong leadership skills and enable them to attend the conference. Brook Lane, Frederick Living, Living Branches, Greencroft Communities, Mennonite Home Communities and Menno Haven provided scholarships for these young adults. The “emerging leaders” will have opportunities to connect and network in Jacksonville, take part in a variety of educational events and also lend their voices toward shaping the future of health care and education work in the Mennonite world.
Currently about half a dozen young adults are expected to be part of the Emerging Leaders group at the conference. Hernandez says the conference planning group hoped for more, but they’re glad to get the process started, anticipating the program and its various connections will grow in the future.
“Our hope is that we’re looking at ways that the millennial climate has been changing, that employment and growth and leadership look different for different generations, with a shift in cultural dynamics,” Hernandez says. “We also are wanting to empower leaders from different cultural backgrounds who are currently in these organizations, encouraging administrators to look within for those leaders.”
Hernandez will be leading a workshop along that theme, “Developing Leaders from Marginalized Populations: A Bi-directional Partnership,” with Valerie Rempel. Several dozen other workshops and plenary sessions will be offered at the event.
As for her own journey, Hernandez says MHS vice president Mim Shirk has been an important mentor and advisor in her career, and it has been meaningful to be able to work with Shirk and others on these conferences.
“That has been a great relationship for me, as a professional and as a person,” Hernandez says. “It’s great to get wisdom from others and hear their stories. It’s been really enriching, and I hope we can continue enriching our programs and our work.”
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