Alumni Q&A: Diego Rios '16

Diego Rios’ faith has guided him early in his career and it has led to his ability to serve underserved communities around the world. The 2016 grad is the executive director of Here For Kids International, in addition to running his public speaking firm, Diego J Rios Inspiration, and involvement with the California Association of Student Councils.

Briefly, what do you do? What are you involved with? What are your life projects?

Here For Kids International (HFK) is a non-profit organization that partners with international relief organizations to send college students abroad to serve at-risk children through sports ministry and other team projects. The program’s founder, Randy Farris, also started the Saint Mary’s women's soccer program. Many trips followed which eventually became an integral part of the Saint Mary's experience as they were a popular and formative Jan Term trip for over a decade. I'm sure many people reading this have either heard of or been on one of those trips!

Diego J Rios Inspiration (DJRI) is a way for me to live out my passion for public speaking and empowering Hispanic youth. I created my business of inspirational speaking in 2012 when I graduated as my high school's student body president and was invited to speak at the following Freshmen Orientation. Ever since, I have spoken at many schools, conferences, and events. Most recently, I've spoken to a Colombian audience through Happiness Nation and was selected as a featured speaker for the Latino Entrepreneur Summit.

The California Association of Student Councils (CASC) is a non-profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of life in the world by developing skilled, ethical, and sensitive leaders of diverse backgrounds and cultures, and fostering self-esteem and civic engagement. I act as one of the organization's Conference Directors for local and international leadership camps and trainings.

What led you to this career path with Here For Kids International?

As an immigrant from Colombia, I came to California with the aspiration to become bicultural and be a leader in everything I was involved in. My life journey includes many failures and obstacles which I take as motivation to persevere and pursue my passions while inspiring others to do the same.

As a junior at Saint Mary's in 2015, I participated in my first HFK trip and felt God calling to pursue my interests for youth development, biculturalism, sports ministry, and faith formation. I stayed involved and led various trips, including two month-long Jan Term courses to the Dominican Republic. HFK recently went through a transition period and began the search for a new director. The Board of Directors had a lengthy search which concluded with unanimously selecting me as their new Executive Director. It is a blessing to be selected and trusted to lead HFK through its next season of growth and to truly live out its mission that we are all blessed to be a blessing.

What is the best/most rewarding part of your job?

Simply, the people. HFK is rooted around relationships and creating a family-type connection with our partners and staff. Our staff is spread all around the country and continent which makes it tough to coordinate a time to meet, yet represents our organization's inclusive approach and overarching impact we have on trip participants, board members, and the at-risk kids and families we serve in our partner ministries. I am blessed to work alongside a dedicated group of servants that encourage me to carry out our mission and follow God's plan for HFK.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The far-reaching effects of COVID-19 have definitely impacted our work and created uncertainty in our organization's future. As I step into a role that has a big impact on the organization and the people that depend on our work, I pray that God can guide me in the right direction as we step into this new normal for all of us. We are an organization that depends on funding and the support of donors that feel the calling to impact the lives of at-risk youth through the formative experience we provide for young adults from all over the US.

Another challenging part of our uncertain future is the ability to create a service experience for our students and participants considering the multiple local, national, and international restrictions that are out of our control, yet impact us and our partners. Thankfully, we are looking ahead with hope and excitement.

This past summer with CASC, I was tasked with the responsibility to direct and execute the logistical and technological aspect of our first ever Virtual Summer Leadership Camp. The feedback from the participants exceeded our expectations and demonstrated that we still created a sense of community within the delegation. And with DJRI, I have taken my public speaking engagements to a virtual platform which have actually turned out to be just as impactful for my audiences (and for myself) and allowed me to reach a wider audience. With these experiences, I am confident HFK can navigate the tumultuous waters ahead with confidence and faith.

How did Saint Mary's prepare you for your job?

My time at Saint Mary's was one filled with blessings and lessons. The blessings came through my encounter with people who believed in me, invested in me, and empowered me. I call them my Angels. Some of them were Brother Dominic Berardelli, Edy Schwartz (former Moraga Chamber of Commerce President and Community Liaison to SMC), and Roger & Janet Gregory (former Moraga Rotary Club President). These Angels were the reason I was able to financially get through college and feel supported and empowered to create an impact in my community and beyond.

The lessons came from my involvement and education at SMC. My leadership experience at SMC included various roles such as Orientation Leader, Resident Advisor, Campus Rec Marketing Coordinator, Club Soccer Captain and culminated in graduating as the Associated Student Body President. These experiences greatly impacted and shaped me as I interacted with and learned from the incredible SMC managers and staff members that crossed my path. The leadership and lessons I learned have been instrumental in the way I interact with my staff and set goals for our organization.

The unique education I received at SMC led me to graduate with a double major in Business Administration (Digital Media Concentration) and Communication. This education has contributed towards the way I approach unexpected situations and the way I communicate with our staff and partners. My Jan Term course of "Business and Culture in Asia: Beijing and Seoul" also provided valuable insight on cross-cultural interactions and how to manage an international organization.

I am grateful for my overall experience at Saint Mary's College of California and how it has led me to be the person I am today. Once a Gael, always a Gael!