Sunday Profile: CMC and Rotary fulfill youngest president
As the world’s youngest Rotary president, Tony Mendez has had a close-up look at the issues his club is working on.
Mendez was 21 when he took the helm of the Rotary Club of the Roaring Fork, better known as Club Rotario, a small, Glenwood Springs-based group that devotes time to educating the community and creating opportunities, particularly for the Hispanic community.
An avid runner, skier and traveler, Mendez, now 22, will receive his bachelor’s degree in business from Colorado Mountain College in May and plans to put his experience to use as a paralegal in his pursuit of a law degree.
His parents, Dora and Milton, grew up in the same part of El Salvador but didn’t meet until after they fled the Salvadoran Civil War and moved to California. Mendez was born in Orange, California, but grew up in El Jebel and attended Basalt public schools.
There, he saw a social divide that went beyond the language barrier.
“When people come to the U.S., they come to seek a better situation for their families, and they try to assimilate as much as possible,” he said. “I felt like I was very included, but at the same time I noticed how people were being excluded.”
With the help of numerous local organizations, including Club Rotario, he thinks it’s getting better.
“Those walls are getting broken down,” he said. “Sometimes it can be a mental game. We put up our own barriers,” he said.
Mendez’s parents didn’t let him fall into that trap.
“From the very get-go have always pushed us to become educated,” he said.
His younger brother and sister might opt for a different course, but for Mendez that means grad school.
“You don’t necessarily have to go to college to get an education, but it’s a foot in the door,” he said. “I’ve always known that I want to get my doctorate, and I’m on track for that.”
He had some help from Precollegiate, a local program that provides mentoring and campus tours for students whose parents didn’t go to college. He now serves as a mentor himself.
“It’s a very good program,” Mendez said. “It was nice having someone who’s been through the college system to bounce ideas and questions off of.”
INTRODUCTION TO ROTARY
Unfortunately, finances made his first choice college of the University of Colorado Boulder untenable.
“It didn’t make any sense for me to get myself into debt,” he said.
Instead, he enrolled at CMC and took a job as a legal assistant to Donald Kaufman.
In late 2012, Kaufman who introduced him to Club Rotario. Mendez served as secretary and helped organize the club’s annual Festival las Americas in Carbondale before being elected president last year.
“It was right up my alley, so I grabbed the bull by the horns and started running with it,” he said. “Leadership development and community service are things I’ve always been interested in.”
In the end, Mendez is glad he stayed.
“I think this valley teaches us a lot about family and our own virtues and ethics,” he said. “You get away from all the noise and it helps you find yourself.”
It’s a contrast to El Salvador, where his grandparents still live and where he visited as a child to relearn Spanish.
“It makes you feel very thankful to live in a place with great education, health care and decent jobs,” he said. “If I hadn’t been born in the U.S., I think my situation would have been very different right now.”
Before his term as president is up, Mendez will travel to the annual Rotary conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In addition to local projects like scholarships for first generation students, Club Rotario also raises money for polio eradication, and would like to do an international project if it can gather enough members and funding.
The club meets at noon every Tuesday at the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co.
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