In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we asked inspiring Latinx professionals to share their stories in their own words. Meet Andre Santiago, Vice President for Programs at Leadership Greater Hartford (LGH).
Andre Santiago has been a member of the LGH staff since 2007. He is a certified Enneagram trainer and frequent facilitator in LGH’s Consulting & Training services. Mr. Santiago earned his Masters of Organizational Leadership from Goodwin University, studied education at Central Connecticut State University, and received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut. He currently serves on the board of directors for Hartford Decide$ and InterCommunity Health Care, is a City of Hartford LGBTQ+ Commissioner, and is on the national board of the Association of Leadership Programs. He is a member of the 2016 class of Hartford Business Journal’s 40 under Forty and is a graduate of the Middle Management Institute with the City of Hartford.
Have you ever felt out of place even within your own family? Growing up as a half-Puerto Rican and half-Italian child, I never felt like enough for either side of my family. At times, I would overcompensate with actions of stereotypical “machismo” dominance to assimilate while at other times, I would shy away from participating in family functions altogether. I share this with you because attending UConn was one of the first times in my life that I felt like I truly belonged and could be my authentic self. The campus felt like home, the friendships that I made have continued for seventeen years, and memories that we created still make me smile on those days where the world seems to be against me.
Upon graduating, I was fortunate to land a job at a nonprofit organization in Hartford providing leadership development and community engagement. Thanks to the connections that I made while at UConn, I was able to secure this job and fourteen years later, I am now the Vice President for Programs. Our mission and vision are to train people as stronger leaders by helping them to build connections with other professionals across all sectors, getting to know the community through giving back all while influencing positive change within the region and beyond. I never would have imagined that a music major from UConn would end up working for a leadership development nonprofit organization but when it’s right, it’s right! Are you interested in exploring career opportunities like working in the not-for-profit sector?
Going into the nonprofit sector does have some obstacles. There are so many phenomenal organizations with profound and meaningful missions, which can feel overwhelming. Think of three to five qualities, characteristics or values that are most meaningful to you and write them down. Next, do a good old-fashioned Google search with those words followed by the word “nonprofit” and the geographical location you are interested in living. From there, make some cold calls and emails to individuals that seem interesting to you. Go with your gut!
One thing is certain about the nonprofit sector – the people that serve their communities are generally open (when asked) to help others. I imagine most leaders that I have encountered on my journey do this because it is the “right thing to do”. The inner moral compass many of us possess to “pass it down” and “lend a helping hand”. It also benefits organizations to create a pipeline of talent and connections. The Hartford region has a tremendous amount of resources, especially Latinx serving organizations filled with passionate individuals who are hard-wired to be of service to others.
Giving back to the community is most important in my leadership journey. I did not have the best Latinx male role models in my life and it was by becoming an educator I learned it is acceptable, and in fact crucial, to put the heart back into leadership. Demonstrating kindness, love and empathy are in all that I do. I have worked with nearly 1,000 students over my course of directing youth programs and I continuously serve as a mentor and support system for those that participate in my programs and younger staff members that I lead. Many of my former students have gone on to attend UConn, which makes me very proud.
In looking back at the students in which I feel that I truly influenced, a majority of those meaningful relationships were with young men of Puerto Rican and other Latinx heritage. Perhaps I was not the only one when growing up that desired to see a different version of how a man could present himself to the world…
As I tell all my students, education is the key to success. Leadership is always about being on a forward trajectory. Whether it is continued academic studies, internships, field experience, service opportunities, or overcoming self-doubt, we all must be making moves each day to achieve our dreams. This does not mean that we must always get it right. Some paths that I have taken in my journey did not go exactly as planned and that is okay! I have learned from each experience, I use that knowledge to continue to challenge myself and to be the change I wish to see in the world. Another of the many lessons I learned in education was I did not have to know all of the answers; I simply had to know where the resources were to find. This is true for your career paths as well. You do not have to get it right all of the time. That level of stress and pressure is not healthy. Building vibrant connections and relationships with everyone you can along your journey will be helpful because you never know where the road will lead you. Stay safe, stay healthy, and most importantly, find happiness in all that you do.