Young Professional Spotlight: Catherine Hidalgo Jara, Tampa Bay

Name: Catherine Hidalgo Jara

Chapter: Tampa Bay

Age: 25

Favorite SDG: #4 Quality Education

1- When did you first get involved with UNA-USA?

I first got involved with UNA-Tampa Bay in 2015, as an NGO Relations intern, after participating in the first Florida Regional Model Arab League Conference.

2- What interests you the most about the organization?

I like UNA’s ability to bridge the gap between global issues and local action, in addition to the universality of the Sustainable Development Goals. Many times I’ve spoken with students and community members who believed they couldn’t get involved in UNA-USA because either they don’t study/ work in international relations, political science, women and gender studies, etc. or they thought issues like human trafficking, gender inequality, the current refugee crisis, etc. could only be worked on in an international capacity. I enjoyed helping them realize that UNA-USA is a non-exclusive organization and we address those issues and more with our work.

3- What made you decide to take on a leadership role within your chapter, and what’s been the greatest value to come from that work? What role did you have as a YP Representative, and how did your national volunteer work inform your local work?

My first leadership role was actually as the chapter’s Internship Director. During this time, I saw a need for a volunteer program within our chapter and helped launched the creation of the chapter’s Goodwill Ambassador Program with myself and two others as directors. Essentially, we were the YP representatives of the chapter. My role included attending community events to speak with students and helping local universities create their own UNA student chapters. My national volunteer work informed my local work because I was able to bring back important information for our local area that we may not have thought of ourselves or been able to access otherwise.

4- What are the major projects/programs you’ve contributed to in your chapter?

As an intern, I assisted in creating the Tampa Bay Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Coalition. In 2017, during my time as Internship Director, I contributed to the Picture My Life™: A Refugee Story exhibition committee, a mentoring program for refugee youth through the medium of photography. My biggest projects, however, is the creation of the Goodwill Ambassador Program and that same year, I initiated and helped oversee the rebuilding of the University of South Florida’s UNA-USA student chapter.

5- What benefits do you see to being involved both locally and nationally within UNA-USA? What do you like most about the summits?

I think it is important to be involved in both, if possible. At the local level, you get to make an impact in your very own community, which is important, but nationally, with the YP network calls and the summits, you become better equipped to help your community and others as well through the sharing of ideas and methods that emerge as a result of diverse individuals of varying backgrounds coming together to discuss common goals.

At the summits, in particular this year with the Universal Periodic Review sessions, I enjoy most the discussions that form as everyone collaborates together. I always leave with a notebook full of ideas and invigorated from being surrounded by other individuals passionate about human rights, protecting the environment, and equality for all.

6- What’s one thing that your most proud of during your time in UNA-Tampa Bay?

I am very proud of the UNA-University of South Florida’s student chapter. This past June, we had 7 students from the new chapter attend the Leadership Summit – and to see them so involved in the UPRs, asking questions and sharing their stories, was remarkable. I am very proud of the students and their achievements this year.

7- What’s one piece of advice you would give to other young members looking to make an impact in their local chapters and communities?

Don’t be afraid of no.

If there is an issue you are passionate about, take action to see the change you want. Reach out to your local UNA chapter and see if they know of any opportunities you can get involved in. If they don’t have any available or if you don’t have a local UNA chapter, reach out to other organizations.  If you find an organization that doesn’t have any active positions open, there is no harm in sending them an email to see how you can still get involved or if they may direct you to any resources you can utilize to begin to make an impact. Many students I’ve spoken to assume they will be told no or assume that there is no availability for them if they don’t see one on the organization’s website. Don’t make those assumptions and just try. The worse that can happened is an email saying, “I’m sorry, we have no available positions at the moment.” If that’s the case, try again somewhere else.