The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus


The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus


The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus


Patterson non-profit looks to empower local students


Robert Rodriguez, a panelist speaker stands in front of the Invest In Me sign, smiling proudly and humbly honored to have attended. (Photo courtesy of Robert Rodriguez)

The non-profit charity out of Patterson, Invest In Me, invites passionate, driven college alumni to help future generations blossom.  The organization hosts a number of events in the spirit of empowering youth, uplifting communities, and building partnerships.

Invest In Me recently hosted their 7th annual Empowerment Conference at the Patterson Joint Unified Professional Development Center. The non-profit organizer, Erica Ayala, invites all youth who seek growth on a personal and professional level. 

These events are sponsored by various chain organizations, some which included Target, Macy’s, Crystal Geyser, Tri Counties Bank, as well as Stanislaus Latino Giving Circle.

The non-profit also hosts the Empowerment Conference, where Ayala and her team hope for an increase in ingenuity for the youth. She encourages and consistently advocates her non-profit in the hopes of grabbing the attention of Stanislaus State students who are interested in becoming a guest speaker. 

“Erica Ayala saw a need in our community, and she didn’t wait for somebody else. She didn’t care who was going to be supporting or if she had the money for it or whatever- she invested her own time, her own money and made it happen,” explained team member Tamirah Mecca. 

A wide range of guest speakers are invited to these events. The days consist of opening remarks, a keynote address, two workshops and a professional panel. Ayala motivates college students, especially those in the Central Valley, to proudly guest speak over subjects that they are  passionate about. 

One of the first-afternoon keynote guests invited by Ayala was Bryan Justin Marks. Marks is a lifelong resident of Stanislaus County. He’s had multiple ventures in his career, some of which include working in politics. He explained how the road to success is never linear and advocates for rooted resilience to bloom in individuals. 

“The biggest mistake that I made was thinking that I know everything,” Marks said. “Sometimes when you come from backgrounds where you’ve grown up in poverty or you’ve grown up at risk, or been in trouble, you spend a great deal in your early twenties and thirties trying to overcompensate.” 

Marks sheds light on the void that we all inevitably go through. He encourages others to put themselves out there in hopes of finding light in the dark. 

“In college, I was in the U.O.P.S, which is a program for first generation students and I was in clubs and activities, sports and theater, and each one of these kind of gave me a piece of figuring out who I was and where I was going,” he explained.

Ayala is grateful to have guests such as Marks commending the silent battles that we all conquer and for taking courageous leaps of faith in fields of opportunity. 

Mecca is co-creator for the black professional network in Stanislaus County, and also serves as a panelist at the event, where she opens up about the importance of continuously inspiring young people. 

“I didn’t have people like this in my life. At some point in college, 20-23, I wanted to be this person. I wanted to fill this gap,” Mecca said. 
She continued by explaining that she became incredibly passionate towards helping other people to not continue the mistakes that she did. 

“It takes one person to share, like this is how you do it. And then it just changes their life,” she said. 

In moments of doubt she reassures young people that “they can do this.” That they do have a voice, people want to hear it, they have a perspective and are capable of filling a gap. 

She shared that she strives to fill a need for representation in the community. 

“We have awesome leadership and we have people who care, however it’s very hard to lead a community-” 

Aside from her work with Invest in Me, Mecca continues assisting others by being the co-lead  for a youth convening meant to increase youth advocacy.  She is also on the city of Patterson Parks Recreation and Beautification Commission, where she has been involved since the conception in 2013. 
In relation to Mecca’s reference of filling a gap, Robert Rodriguez, a panelist, was vulnerable about sharing his professional workspace experiences and advice with attendees. 

The constant notion that those who hold a degree presumably get the job was addressed early on in Robert’s message as he preached on what jobs indeed look for.

“Go to college and make sure that you do internships, you do extracurricular activities,” he recommended. A lot of the industry wants experience, experience, experience.”

Sharing with such open vulnerability, Rodriguez touched on his past failures and the tedious obstacles that he had to endure.

Over the past three years, Robert managed to submit 54 job applications, and shared that only three had given him a chance for employment. Out of the three, two turned him down and the remaining, Atos, presented him an opportunity to fulfill that gap and set forth on a new career path. 

After earning the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certificate, Robert realized that there is always room for improvement and greater things to conquer. 

“I’m barely scraping the top of the iceberg, There’s alot for me to learn, still,” he said. 

He spreads the message that in those failures, resilience sprouts. The trials and tribulations that Robert endured, molded him into becoming a successful engineer at Atos.
“Chase your dreams,” he said. “You can do whatever you want. Don’t let failure stop you, you’re going to fail.. it didn’t stop me from getting to where I wanted to go.”

Karen Garcia is a past speaker and attendee of the event. She couldn’t help but admire the paths to success other speakers share. 

“I think really what spoke to me was their career experiences,” she explained. “I love learning about others and the way their routes and the paths that they take… they all lead to one successful point at the end.”
Ayala and her team encourage all college students and adults to attend and extend a hand to youth in need. She also encourages those in college especially  to reach out and find the courage to guest speak at her Empower Hours hosted every Thursday of the month.

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Patterson non-profit looks to empower local students