For years, Santos Yescas has been a volunteer and a leader in Nogales, working with various community-building organizations to help local people improve their quality of life.
But when he first moved his family to Nogales in 1994 looking for better opportunities for his children, it was a struggle. He didn’t speak any English and he’d never had a job in the United States, he said.
Determined to provide his family with a brighter future, however, Yescas said, he started taking English classes through Literacy Volunteers of Santa Cruz County while working two retail jobs, one at a Circle K convenience store and another at a shoe shop. Soon, he became proficient in English and was volunteering to teach other people Spanish and English at Literacy Volunteers, he said.
“Believe it or not, in one year, I started teaching English there. Just the basics because that’s what I knew,” he laughed, adding that he was able to pull from his experience as a teacher at a technical school in Nogales, Sonora to help him in his new endeavor.
“I started volunteering with them and then I became part of their board of directors and I’ve been involved with them ever since,” he said. “I did it because I wanted to give back for what I had learned and accomplished with them.”
That experience is what spurred Yescas to get involved with the community, eventually getting a job with Nogales community Development (NCD) in 2008 where he’s a program manager. He helps oversee the nonprofit’s finances, coordinates business trainings, helps run the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and organizes the Nogales Mercado Farmer’s Market Friday afternoons.
When he’s not doing all that, the 48-year-old volunteers with groups including United Church Village, Nogales Community Food Bank, the Cultural Arts Committee, the Alzheimer’s Association, Relay For Life and the 0S3 biking movement.
‘No questions asked’
Yescas had worked in retail for years before joining NCD, but eventually he decided it was time for a change, he said.
“I had the experience of working (with Literacy Volunteers), I just mentioned, ‘If there is an opportunity for me in nonprofit, I think I would change (careers),’” he said. “I don’t know who I mentioned it to. But it was like I was saying it to the universe, because soon after someone came and offered me to work with NCD.”
Yescas said the nonprofit, which aims to create long-term economic growth in Nogales by providing help to entrepreneurs, small-business owners and job seekers, had received a grant to administer small business loans and was looking for someone to manage the program. Because of his background in accounting and retail, Yescas was the perfect fit.
“Everyone calls all day long from all over the community looking for Santos because they only trust him to solve their problems,” NCD Executive Director Nils Urman said of Yescas.
For Yescas, helping others is necessary for building and sustaining a successful community, he said.
“It’s important because we’re creating a network to provide more options to people in the community,” he said of his work with NCD and other organizations. “Sometimes you walk through here and the only light on is mine. But I just do it and that’s it, no questions asked.”