Maleni Mendoza-Garcia has always had a passion for social justice and fighting for what she believes in, and now she is being recognized for her dedication to bettering her community. Mendoza-Garcia has been named the Newman Civic Fellow recipient for 2014.
The Newman Civic Fellows’ Program is presented by Campus Compact, a coalition of over 1200 college and university presidents across the United States who are dedicated to the promotion of campus-based civic engagement. The group seeks to recognize student leaders who have shown their commitment to tackling issues and challenges that impact communities. A sophomore studying criminal justice and women’s studies, Mendoza-Garcia hopes to pursue a career relating to human trafficking.
“I specifically wanted to focus on the prosecution of people who commit those crimes,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “I’ve also been thinking about advocating for nonprofit organizations who deal with these issues. I intern for those types of organizations now and I want to continue that work after graduation.”
Mendoza-Garcia first found her passion for civic engagement when she was in high school.
“I was very interested in volunteering at a dance studio with students experiencing Down Syndrome and I think that’s where my passion for volunteering began,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “Growing up in North Minneapolis, a lot of the graduation rates are only 50%. I think being able to keep myself engaged in the community and seeing how I could improve it really inspired me and helped me separate myself from being one of those statistics. Being an advocate has helped shape me for what I am doing and what I plan to do in the long run.”
She also had a role model to aspire to; her grandmother.
“When she was alive, she was very involved in the community. I saw how devoted she was to making a difference in her community and I think that also helped me find my passions.”
Mendoza-Garcia is exceedingly active in her pursuits, and can boast involvement in several organizations that are geared towards youth mentoring both on and off campus. At Hamline, Mendoza-Garcia acts as both a mentor and guide through her work in Hamline’s Center for Student Success and Transition and her volunteer work at Hamline Elementary School just across the street from campus.
Additionally, she has worked closely with the Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice on their annual Catalyst spring break service trips. For two consecutive years, Mendoza-Garcia has participated in and led the Washington D.C. trip that aims to understand and work to alleviate homelessness and poverty. Out of all her civic work, the Catalyst Trip had the most profound impact, particularly the voluntary 48-hour homelessness challenge in which participants must face the trials of any person experiencing homelessness, and must fend for themselves with limited resources. You can read more about her powerful experience with the Catalyst spring break service trips on thegroup blog page.
"It was an experience I never would have thought I’d be participating in, especially in college,” Mendoza-Garcia said. "To get a glimpse at what it’s like to be experiencing homelessness and to learn from others who work with people experiencing homelessness and are living in impoverished communities, it was very impactful on me."
Off-campus, Mendoza-Garcia is similarly busy. She has interned for the Pro Bono Diversity Program and the God’s Child Project, which focuses on human and sex trafficking, as well as issues of poverty, and also has volunteered at Southside Charter Schools.
“They’re very social justice focused, which is very similar to Hamline's mission,” Mendoza-Garcia said. “I think the reason I’m passionate about working with youth is because I think it’s very important that young people have mentors and people who will guide them through their years in school.”
Through all of her work, there is no doubt that Mendoza-Garcia has not only bettered her community, but also made a positive impact in the lives of those around her, be it through advocating, volunteering, and serving.