YLS Member Spotlights

United Way for Greater Austin’s Young Leaders Society (YLS) is a diverse network of young professionals under the age of 40 who are passionate about helping kids and families overcome economic barriers. Through unique networking events, meaningful volunteering and learning opportunities, members leverage their collective power to connect, serve and grow. Membership is open to donors giving $250 or more annually to United Way for Greater Austin. Each month, we’ll help you get to know YLS members through a spotlight! Stay tuned for member interviews each month.

January 2018 Member Spotlight: Rose Ann Garza

Rose Ann Garza is a longtime supporter of United Way for Greater Austin and and has been a YLS member since 2014.


What does your job entail?

Ultimately, I take care of our team from start to finish-everything from ensuring we are making our new team members feel welcome to benefits and compensation, incentives, etc. The People Operations team ensures our team feels treated fairly, appreciated and that they have a safe and happy place to work in, something everyone deserves but sadly not everyone gets.


Why do you choose to support UWATX?

I have always been passionate about giving back to the community in which I reside. Growing up it was part of who we were as a family-I continue to consider volunteerism a part of who I am to this day and am grateful to have been raised with such a focus on others. When I first came to Central Texas for college I felt something was missing-YLS and specifically UWATX have helped me to fill that void as well as get others involved and teach them about the impact they can have on others. One of the things I think about when volunteering is something I heard from a guest speaker back in high school- if it is to be it is up to me-so simple, so true. I may not be a native Austinite but I have been here a long time and I feel it is my duty to ensure we are making this a better place to raise children, have a family and end poverty in our community.


What do you enjoy about UWATX’s Young Leaders Society and why should others join?

YLS does a great job at bringing like-minded individuals together to focus on and increase our impact in the community. It can be difficult to individually determine where your time and money is best spent. UWATX and YLS help direct my contributions to have a greater impact on those in our community that need assistance.


What are you most proud of (personally or professionally)?

I am most proud to have a career I love with people I truly enjoy. Work is where people spend the majority of their life. If you do not like who you are working with or what you are doing it can have a truly negative effect on your life. I am proud to say I get to spend the majority of my time with my second family-Kerbey Lane.


What do you love most about Austin?

I love that Austin is a place where you can be who you want to be.

October 2017 Member Spotlight: Vicky Pridgen

Vicky is a longtime supporter of United Way for Greater Austin and has been a YLS member since 2015.

 What does your job entail?

I translate academic research into digestible pieces of content primed for consumption by the average American attention span. Our team at the Child and Family Research Partnership collaborates with United Way for Greater Austin on occasion to ensure that UWATX programming is data-driven and achieving its desired impacts.

Why do you choose to support UWATX?

I was super involved with my hometown United Way, so when I moved to Austin a few years ago it was a natural transition to begin supporting my “new” United Way. I was also psyched to learn that UWATX is relatively unique among other United Ways in the services that it provides to our community because it strives to implement its own programming and facilitate partnerships to strengthen our community.


What do you enjoy about UWATX’s Young Leaders Society and why should others join?

I enjoy every person that I’ve interacted with at YLS events! I love that there are a variety of events focused on social networking, career growth, and volunteerism — it’s a diverse network of young professionals who are drawn together with the common goal of doing good.


What are you most proud of (personally or professionally)?

I love connecting people to organizations, resources and other humans.


What do you love most about Austin?

I love how many passionate people exist and thrive in this city. No matter what cause(s) you hold near and dear to your heart, you can always find other Austinites who care about those same things and want to collaborate to make something greater together.

September 2017 Member Spotlight: Saro Mohammed, Ph.D. 

Saro is a longtime supporter of United Way for Greater Austin and has been a YLS member since 2015.

What does your job entail?
As a recovering academic (an education researcher) using my powers for good, I’m responsible for helping (all of) us understand if, when, and how blended learning is effectively implemented in K-12 classrooms nationwide.

Why do you choose to support UWATX?
Growing up, I always associated the “United Way” brand with “doing good for your community”. As a researcher, I choose to support UWATX because I feel I can make a bigger difference for more students through its initiatives. Through UWATX, I really feel like I can make Austin greater.

What do you enjoy about UWATX’s Young Leaders Society and why should others join?
I especially like the fun, hands-on way I can contribute through YLS, as compared to other UWATX giving Societies. YLS events never feel like “work”, and yet always feel purposeful, mission-driven, and important.

What are you most proud of (personally or professionally)?
One of the things I’m most proud of, having gotten my Bachelor’s degree from MIT, is my work in helping all students have access to the same educational opportunities that were available to me. This ranges from my role as an MIT Alumni “Educational Counselor” (i.e., an interviewer and ambassador for admissions) to my work on UWATX’s Mission Advancement Committee and my contributions as a YLS member.

What do you love most about Austin?
I love how truly, authentically Texan Austin is while at the same time being weird and unique. It’s a hard line to walk, but our city does it well – where else in the world can you see Johnny Depp as a guest bass guitarist for Willie Nelson at the Rodeo (during SXSW, naturally)?

August 2017 Member Spotlight: John Andoh

John Andoh has been with Capital Metro for 2 years as the Program Manager of Bus Contracts. John has received more than six national and regional awards for transit improvement, outstanding public transit operation, financial excellence and transportation innovation, and most recently was selected as the Association for Commuter Transportation’s 2016 40 Under 40 List. John is a longtime supporter of United Way for Greater Austin and is a member of the Mission Advancement Committee. He joined YLS in May 2017.

What does your job entail? I manage the fixed route (big bus) operation for Capital Metro and ensure that the three operating contractors are following the terms of the contract.

Why do you choose to support UWATX? I believe in helping those in need access services and supporting them so that they can be successful in life. I am a huge supporter of the 2-1-1 Navigation Center, operated by UWATX. In fact, I helped start this service in the Bay Area in 2005 as an advisory committee member during its launch.  I also served on the Arizona 2-1-1 Board of Directors 2012 to 2015.

What do you enjoy about UWATX’s Young Leaders Society and why should others join? I enjoy the ability to network with people in my age group that are community/civic minded that want make a difference here in Austin.

What are you most proud of (personally or professionally)? I am proud that I have been able to improve public transit services throughout the country, and since transit is a social service, I’m glad to help provide a service for those who need to be able to get around.

What do you love most about Austin? I love the personalities and the energy of the community.

July 2017 YLS Member Spotlight: Karli Isiyel

Karli is a longtime supporter of United Way for Greater Austin and has been a YLS member since 2015.

What does your job entail? As Creative Director at Kerbey Lane Cafe (KLC), I am fortunate enough to get to make pretty things all day! Food styling, photography, menu design, picking paint colors, etc.

Why do you choose to support UWATX? KLC has partnered with UWATX for about 5 years. We choose to support UWATX through an employee giving campaign and volunteer engagement because it’s great for our Corporate Responsibility goals. The access to such a variety of programs and people in this city is invaluable. We can choose what types of agencies to work with and UWATX is so flexible in response to our needs.

What do you enjoy about YLS and why should others join?  It was a natural transition to be a part of YLS. I fit the age range and was already contributing my money and time to UWATX, so I figured why not spend a little more time! I got to know people my age who have the same values. It’s great to network with people who you have something in common with and hopefully raise funds and recruit volunteers at the same time.

What are you most proud of? I’m proud that I’m living in a city I love and have a career that I truly enjoy. I love that UWATX and the people I work with every day at KLC are like my family – it warms my heart.

What do you love most about Austin? I have lived here my whole life and have lived in many, many different parts of the city – some great, and some not so great. However, I’ve always felt safe like we have a strong sense of community.


June 2017 YLS Member Spotlight: Jennifer Landa and Otilo Benavides IV
Both longtime supporters of United Way for Greater Austin, Jennifer and Otilo have been YLS members since 2012.

What does your job entail? 

 JL | As a Freelance Social Scientist, I help organizations, businesses, and academics get to know the people they work with, and how to improve those relationships. What this means day-to-day depends on the phase of the project. On any given day, I might be designing a survey or experiment, conducting interviews, or playing stats jockey. The goal is to look at what people think and do and then figure out why. Why is the key question in my work, and life.

OB | As a Manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP, the crux of my job entails coordinating with other talented individuals to help our clients leverage technology to further their business.  My areas of expertise include: ensuring Infrastructure readiness, configuring Configuration Managements tools, and orchestrating Releases.


Why do you choose to support UWATX?

 JL | The United Way mission to fight poverty has a special place in my heart because I grew up in a disadvantaged home that faced a great deal of adversity. I’ve been able to succeed, in large part due to the help of countless people who went out of the way to give me a chance at a better life. As grateful I am for those people, I feel I have to do something as well, and getting involved with United Way is my way of contributing to the community and helping to carry on the legacy of those who helped me.

OB | Deloitte’s United Way Workplace Campaign makes it easy to make donations and the campaign gives us exposure to all the programs that United Way supports. I feel the programs are very promising and want to support their endeavors. In addition, United Way serves as a hub to other nonprofits, so it’s a one-stop-shop for contributing to any worthy cause you have.


What do you enjoy about YLS and why should others join?

 JL | YLS is a great opportunity to meet talented, passionate, and caring people from all over Austin. Even if you don’t know anyone before coming here, joining means you already have at least one common interest and a way to start a conversation. It can be overwhelming to think of all the causes that need our help, but coming here and seeing the genuine interest that people have in doing what they can to make our community stronger makes it all seem more manageable. You should come even if you’re not sure you can make a commitment. Get to know the people involved and the work that’s being done around the community. Sometimes ideas come from the most unexpected places. You may think of something that can help United Way do something better, or you might walk away with an idea for how to improve yourself.

OB | YLS is a great way to gain exposure to like-minded individuals who are passionate about contributing to our community.   In addition, it’s a great way to network with members of our community and stay up to date on the latest issues and victories in the Greater Austin Area. I urge others to join because we are stronger together.


What are you most proud of?

JL | I’m most proud of my ability to see something special in places that others have overlooked. I have a passion for salvaging things that other people would have given up on and nurturing their unexpected beauty. One of my favorite hobbies, for example, is teaching others how to grow gardens from food scraps, seeds, and small cuttings- things others would have thrown away- and eventually making entire meals and preserves from that garden. Similarly, I’m most proud of the work I’ve done where one small deviation has revealed something interesting about a whole segment of the population.

OB | The act that I’m most proud of is convincing my wife to marry me. My college degrees, my achievements at work, and even living in Austin wouldn’t mean much without the love and support that my family and friends have afforded me.


What do you love most about Austin? 

JL | I’ve been part of Austin for a long time now, and though many things have changed, one thing has stayed very much the same- Austin’s love of living. You can see it during the exuberant festivals and holidays, with all the music and visitors and spectacle, but that spirit never really leaves. Austinites can be found enjoying the weather at parks year round, cookouts and drinks are never in short supply, and attempts to make next year better somehow are always afoot. This is a place where family can be found, and futures can be made.

OB | What I love most about Austin is how warm and friendly the people can be and the way they embrace their individuality. As a fairly neurotic person, I take solace in seeing Austinites relax and take life in stride as they go about their business.