I grew up in Montrose, Colorado, which was a small town of about 6,500 people at the time. My father, George, was a vocational rehab counselor for the state of Colorado who helped people with injuries or disabilities find good jobs. My mom, Maria, came to Colorado at the age of 20 from Chihuahua, Mexico. My mom has a strong entrepreneurial spirit. She operated her own in-home child care business and created a local Spanish language radio program which she ran for many years. Growing up, we made many trips to visit relatives in rural Mexico.
After receiving my BA from the University of Colorado in Economics and International Affairs, I moved to Washington, D.C. with about $50 in my pocket and the promise of an unpaid congressional internship. To help make ends meet, I lived and worked at the International Youth Hostel for 5 years while attending Georgetown University on a graduate fellowship. I then went on to work at the Library of Congress for nearly 10 years and helped to create the new American Memory website.
While living in the heart of Washington's Shaw neighborhood, I became very involved in community improvement activities. As a leader of the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Council, I helped long-time residents, new members of the community, nonprofits, and businesses work together to tackle problems common to neighborhoods affected by poverty. As a board member of the Friends of Kennedy Playground, I advocated for the renovation of a playground overrun by drug dealers; this effort eventually led to the construction of a beautiful modern recreation center. I also helped launch the Shaw Main Streets Program, which revived a business district that had been ailing for more than 30 years. When a controversial convention center was proposed for an area, I engaged residents and leaders in a neighborhood design workshop that resulted in significant improvements to the neighborhood's design and helped create the $1.25 million Shaw Fund to provide support to the neighborhood.
It was in Shaw where I met my wife, Ondine: she was helping to run an after-school children's advocacy program in the neighborhood. Ondine went on to create and manage a non-profit organization called Shaw EcoVillage that provided hands-on environmental internships for at-risk high school kids. Together, we launched a youth “recycle-a-bicycle” program where low-income kids learned bicycle repair and racing skills while earning their own bicycle in the process. Eventually, we started a nonprofit bicycle repair shop that trained and employed neighborhood youth—a one-of-a-kind operation in Washington, D.C.
In 2003, we moved to Gainesville so that Ondine could work towards her Master's degree in interdisciplinary ecology and wetlands at the University of Florida. We quickly fell in love with the town and decided to start our family here.
Since moving here, I have completely committed myself to community building through a wide range of volunteer initiatives and serving as City Commissioner for two terms (2010-2016). I currently serve as the volunteer Executive Director of the Florida Community Design Center, a local nonprofit that hosts student interns to work on community projects. I also had the pleasure of performing in Oklahoma! and Fiddler on the Roof at the Gainesville Community Playhouse in 2016.