By Debbie Hall
Photos by Connie Palen
Home for families is where her heart lies
Jackie Valdera’s passion and dedication to bettering the lives of Southern Nevadans began when as a child, her family moved from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, and settled in the neighborhood known as 28th Street. Today, Valdera is the director of family services at Habitat for Humanity and to date has worked with nearly 50 families; providing guidance, financial education and support to individuals as they transition from being in financial crisis to becoming responsible homeowners.
“I grew up in a very crime- and gang-infested neighborhood, so just sheer survival was always a priority, even as a child,” explained Valdera, “I did see natural characteristics in my personality start to blossom. I went to the Boys and Girls Club growing up, and became a natural born leader and motivator. I loved managing clubs, events, educational activities, and I had an incredible sense of volunteerism and giving back at a very young age.”
As a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, she visited senior centers, volunteered at Shade Tree and the Lutheran Social Ministry and served as secretary for the East Las Vegas Community Outreach Corporation. For her many achievements, Valdera was awarded Nevada’s Youth of the Year in 1998. In May 1999, she was presented with more than $25,000 in college scholarships from the Children’s Angel Network during her appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” While attending University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Valdera became a Boys and Girls Club staff member.
“In college, I had a difficult time deciding a major. Even though I majored in business, I’ve always had such a connection to giving back to my community. Nonprofit work came natural to me and it will always be my calling,” she said.
As a youth, Boys and Girls Club Director Ruben Alvarez greatly influenced Valdera while she was involved with the club. According to Valdera, Alvarez asked her to promise him that she would be like a sponge and absorb everything that came her way; both positive and negative. “‘Let the combination of those experiences mold you to become the incredible person that you were meant to be,’ he told me,” and as she stated, “I always remembered that statement and really took it to heart. That moment has helped shaped my life and who I am today.”
For anyone contemplating entering the nonprofit sector, Valdera advises, “I think it’s really important for women to know that being a nonprofit professional takes all heart. This line of work requires a special type of person. It can be emotionally exhausting at times, but the reward is indescribable. To make a difference in someone’s life and to know that you have left a positive impact on them is something that lasts a lifetime.”
As an adult, Valdera received KLAS-TV Channel 8’s Portraits of Success in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, was featured in “The Oprah Winfrey Show” finale with a tribute to her efforts in education and has continued her own training in other areas to be more effective in today’s world.
Even with all of her accomplishments, Valdera gives credit to others. “Ultimately, I’m most proud of the families whose lives I’ve impacted. In the process of completing 300 hours of volunteer work called sweat equity and classes about financial stability, our partner families actually grow to become better, more responsible people. They begin to believe in themselves and in their ability to accomplish their dreams. Watching hopeful, struggling working people transform into confident homeowners makes me proud to come to work and they inspire me every day,” she said. She truly embodies a Fearless Female.