Each month, the Mission Economic Development Agency honors one of its dedicated volunteers — the people who are an integral part of MEDA’s ability to provide free services to low- and moderate-income Bay Area residents. Thanks to all of the selfless MEDA volunteers who choose Plaza Adelante as their second home.
Name: Vianny Ochoa
Program: Free Tax Preparation
Why did you decide to volunteer with MEDA?
I was enrolled in a tax class at Cal and wanted to help a community similar to my own hometown. I am from Downtown Los Angeles and grew up in a predominantly Hispanic/Latino community; therefore, as a first-year at Cal, as I found myself exploring the city, I came across the Mission and was instantly reminded of home. I chose MEDA not only because of its location and demographic, but also because of the passion that was reflected on all the extra nonprofit support it provides. I value giving back to those in moments of need, and MEDA seemed to value it, too. That’s what sold me on volunteering at MEDA.
What projects have you worked on as a volunteer?
I have volunteered mostly in the education field as a tutor or mentor. I have also fundraised for Relay For Life, which invested the money in research that would further advance the treatment of breast cancer. This was actually the first time I volunteered within the tax field. I was really interested because, like I mentioned, growing up in my community I saw socioeconomic disparities to be one of the greatest hardships faced now and in the long run. I figured that I could start making some change on a smaller scale by helping families correctly file taxes and without having to pay a cent.
What do you like best about volunteering at MEDA?
The best outcome that I experience at MEDA is making someone’s day. It is being able to hear their life experiences and choices, plus how that has affected them financially. Every day is full of surprises. It’s ironic to be writing about this because I remember hearing guest speakers at UC Berkeley say the same and I would ask myself, “Are they just trying to sell this to me? I bet now every encounter is great.” I have been fortunate to have had great clients for these past weeks because it is always a learning experience. It’s helped me grow as a person and has had an immense impact on helping me maintain my first language, Spanish, in which I am fluent.
What have you learned from your volunteer experience?
At MEDA, I have learned about myself as an individual. I have learned that in the public-service sector, every client deserves to have service that is tailored for them. I am constantly challenged to either amp up my personality … or to slow down a little. As for the tax filing, the first day was definitely one that challenged me. I was finally doing free tax prep in san Francisco — for real! So, I was a lot more conscious of the numbers and the forms. I have learned that taxes are constantly updating policies and it can benefit clients greatly. MEDA’s biggest lesson would perhaps be that one feels most rewarded when others are rewarded.
Tell us something we may not know about you. Any interesting facts you’d like to share about your life?
Growing up, my family and I were street vendors. From selling chips and sodas outside public schools to selling street hotdogs outside Hollywood’s most glamorous clubs. It definitely was a lifestyle that made me aware of the importance of one’s socioeconomic status, and the great gap seen in the different levels of opportunities and resources. My dad also happened to work as a personal assistant for some movie directors, artists and actresses. This exposed me to the world of entertainment. Both the business and media background have influenced me to pursue a degree in Business Administration and possibly Media Studies or Latin American Studies. In the future I would like to pursue a career in the corporate world and still be able to volunteer or have a foundation that helps low-income minorities pursue higher education. Filing taxes at MEDA allows me to have a taste of some aspects of the financial industry and still have connections to my roots through the clients. I have found that those I work with at MEDA are very caring and loving, and that is why I found it easier to volunteer more and to tap into my network to get other volunteers with similar interests, values and interests to join the MEDA family.
My sister, Josephine Ochoa, is on the Univision reality TV show “Nuestra Belleza Latina VIP” — so I encourage you to vote for her! She’s representing Guatemala. Go to social media platforms and use #NBLJosephineVIP. ¡Gracias!