As the year comes to an end, Coachella Unincorporated is featuring some of the people who made a positive impact on the Eastern Coachella Valley in 2012. We begin with Elizabeth Toledo. At the age of 29, she has already made her mark on the region. Toledo is the hub manager of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative in the Eastern Coachella Valley. She also holds elected office as a member of the Riverside County Board of Education. She currently serves as vice president of that body.
A native of Thermal, Toledo earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of California at Riverside after graduating from Coachella Valley High School. She went on to earn her master’s degree in politics, economics, and business from Claremont Graduate University.
Coachella Unincorporated reporter Fatima Ramirez recently had an opportunity to interview Toledo; they talked about her background and the multiple hats she wears in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Coachella Unincorporated: What does your everyday job (at BHC) consist of?
Elizabeth Toledo: It’s really ever changing. I am responsible for supporting BHC locally and helping move the BHC plan forward day to day; facilitating Hub-related meetings; connecting people from diverse constituencies within and across the BHC network. It takes having the ability to do a lot and being flexible. It’s about leading and cooperating for a healthy community. Also, working with partners to implement a lot of policies and plans that help work towards a better community are a big part (of my job).
CU: What would you say is the most enjoyable part of your job
ET: One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing progress. Being able to be part of a greater purpose and having the opportunity to work with young people is a great experience. I think it’s really important to teach the younger generation about their surroundings and the elements of building a great community.
CU: What is the hardest part of your job?
ET: I think, in this situation, the gravity and magnitude of the issues is really important. We are dealing with major barriers such as the lack of adequate housing and transportation, access to clean water and healthy food. Many people express frustration about the systematic way things are dealt with and I can relate to that as well. Also, it’s difficult to try and tackle everything at once especially with the size and importance of the problems.
CU: How do you think working in public office differs from other jobs?
ET: Well, I actually started working with Planned Parenthood at the age of 15, talking to young people like me about the community and issues such as teen pregnancy. My career this far, including public office, has focused on serving others. I would say one of the biggest differences in my current role would be that you are the one in charge of moving things along. In any of these roles, it is important to remember that the policies that are being made have to be made for a greater purpose and everyone has to be held accountable for their actions.
CU: You mentioned dealing with policies and plans; would you elaborate on some of those?
ET: Yes, as a member of the Riverside County Board of Education, one of the biggest areas is developing policies and serving as a model for Riverside County districts, especially as related modeling responsible school finance and working with staff to identify ways to improve school funding. Students in alternative education programs, Cal-SAFE, developmentally disabled and career and technical education. I believe that to effectively work with these special student populations, we must serve the whole student and not only that only that, but tackling the problem at its source by offering counseling and advocating a broader sense of community at schools. Also, it is very important to improve health and maintain it at a high quality.
CU: What do you think are the biggest issues in public education?
ET: When talking about California’s public education system, in particular, I would have to say funding. It is obviously bare-boned and the state of the economy doesn’t help at all. We need to prepare students at a young age that education is of high importance. Prioritizing education as a vital issue and preparing students to meet demands should also be attended to. It’s not just about holding students to higher standards, but also to provide them with a support system and most importantly make education relevant.
CU: And what do you think is the best way to handle said issues?
ET: Definitely by collaborating with the community. We need to set up a system in which every partner is involved and held accountable. Where the community, as well as parents, are involved in a student’s education. Also, by creating individualized learning programs that shape to the needs of the students, it guarantees making education relevant.
CU: How is your current position different than when you served on the board of Coachella Valley Unified School District?
ET: Well, one of the main differences is that a County Board of Education serves as an appellate body for local school districts for interdistrict transfers, expulsions and charter schools. I now deal with different issues and distinct student populations and set the direction for various programs throughout the county. Most importantly, I am now able to serve in more of a advocate for public education regionally and statewide.
CU: Have you always known holding public office was something you wanted to pursue?
ET: I never really had a clear view on a profession, but I think working with Planned Parenthood and serving as intern for Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson as a young student definitely shaped the rest of my career. It was then that I had my first real experience helping the community and being an advocate. I think doing so helped me realize my passion for improving my surroundings. My background is very important to me and I am still very much attached to the eastern valley, and I’m very passionate about serving my community.
CU: Has growing up in the Eastern Coachella Valley impacted your career?
ET: Absolutely. I actually find myself reflecting on my upbringing and my exposure through the various groups that I have been a part of, especially my time serving as an intern within the County of Riverside. I have found that, as a person in office now, I need to help bring others along with me and give the same opportunities as the ones that were given to me. I’m extremely thankful for the way the valley has supported me. I think it’s very important to explore ways to improve the conditions and create a better life for others that are disenfranchised. You will find that many of us that have grown up in this community and have come back to serve be it in public service have been impacted by our upbringing here. Many of us are children of farmworkers and have been given opportunities to explore the world beyond our current reality. That is why I’m a big advocate for opportunities like internships and scholarships.
– FATIMA RAMIREZ/Coachella Unincorporated