Hill Climbers: Multitasking Networkers

Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:30pm

It’s not unusual to hear a Congressional staffer say he or she came to Washington to help people, to network, to make a difference. But the new executive board members of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association are taking that even further, carrying those goals over from their day jobs to the organization they now head.

[IMGCAP(1)]Teresa Bravo found out firsthand how useful it is to have a supportive community to turn to upon first arriving in Washington, D.C.

A lifelong resident of Tucson, Ariz., Bravo landed in Washington in January 2008. It was a month after she graduated from the University of Arizona, and she had come to town to be staff assistant to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Bravo joined the CHSA soon after arriving in the city in order to meet people and develop a network.

Simply belonging to the organization wasn’t enough for Bravo, however. During her first year on the Hill, she served as the CHSA’s treasurer. This year, she decided to take things a step further and was elected president in February.

“I knew what was going on and what needed to be improved,— she said.

Having a network of people who had common experiences and could offer advice about living and working in Washington was so vital to Bravo’s experience that she wants to provide the same support to new members.

“When you come here, you don’t know anyone,— she said. “You miss the food, you miss your family, you miss the weather.—

As the CHSA establishes and strengthens its connections with other groups throughout Washington, it can provide resources for those members who need to make professional contacts or just want a taste of home. For example, the CHSA maintains relationships with several Latin American embassies.

“It connects our members with sources here, knowing people from all over the world,— she said.

[IMGCAP(2)]Bravo is the organization’s first female president, a distinction she takes seriously.

“It’s an honor,— she said. “I have to step it up and show what we have.—

Vice President Simon Tafoya has had a busy spring. In addition to being elected to the CHSA board, he started working as a legislative aide to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in April. Before that, he was a legislative correspondent for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Tafoya holds a master’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and a bachelor’s degree from Colorado College.

He joined the CHSA shortly after coming to work for Reid in early 2008.

Being a member “allows an individual to orient themselves on the Hill and off the Hill,— he said.

As vice president, he said he will be “making sure we provide the best services to our membership and bringing people with a variety of backgrounds to the Hill.—

Lucy Ortega was actually a CHSA member before she was a staffer. She was staying with a friend after moving to Washington from Brownsville, Texas, and the friend suggested she join the group to start networking.

Ortega took the advice and became involved with the goings-on at the CHSA. Having that community helped make the transition easier for her, and she was soon hired as a legislative assistant to Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.).

Inspired by the new administration and the shifting culture in Washington, Ortega decided to take a leadership role in the CHSA. She took over treasury duties when Bravo became president.

“With all the change and all the movements, I decided this was a way to give more appreciation to the organization,— she said.

Having been here for a little more than a year, Ortega said she has plenty of noteworthy experiences to recount. The most significant, however, is more personal than political.

When her parents came to Washington for the first time, she gave them a tour of the Capitol and was overwhelmed by the poignancy of the moment.

“It was very self-rewarding,— Ortega said. “Nothing tops when my parents were here in D.C. and when they were in the Capitol.—

Claudia Montelongo is the CHSA’s new secretary. Like Tafoya, she is particularly focused on membership.

“I want to be able to include more people, to harness the energy they have to push the organization forward,— Montelongo said.

Montelongo manages constituent relations in the office of the 32nd Congressional district, formerly represented by now-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., in 2006.

While in Washington for a conference as an undergraduate, Montelongo was struck by the number of ambitious young professionals in the city.

“It seemed like there were a lot of young people here; everyone seemed like they wanted to get involved in something,— she said. “Everyone came to D.C. because that’s where they could make things happen.—

Already, the new board members are focused on rolling out a new Web site to facilitate communication among CHSA staffers. They are also planning to work on strengthening the group’s foundation, creating a solid platform from which they can aid their members and promote their message of diversity.

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