Leading by Example: Fred R. Fernandez

Fred R. Fernandez has been part of the fabric of UnidosUS for almost as long as the organization has existed. As a donor, former board member, and a long-time representative for UPS on the Corporate Board of Advisors, Fred’s dedication to, and involvement with, UnidosUS has spanned almost 40 years.

Oftentimes quietly, and behind the scenes, his philanthropy, strategic support, and leadership have deeply and meaningfully impacted our work. When UnidosUS launched the 50th Anniversary Campaign for Equal Opportunity in 2018, Fred, and his wife Irma Rodriguez, stepped up to be among the first to donate during the campaign’s quiet phase. Fred also enthusiastically volunteered to do more.

Our President and CEO Janet took him up on his offer, asking him to join former UnidosUS Board Chair Jose Villarreal as co-chair of the campaign. Thanks to the dedicated leadership of Fred and Jose, UnidosUS exceeded the campaign’s original goal of $50 million, a historic achievement that will impact our work – and millions of Latinos – for years to come.

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Fred and Irma both share a strong affinity for UnidosUS’s work; they have been key supporters of the organization’s mission over the years. As an educator, and former chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, Irma has long been an advocate and change agent in support of the community. Together, they have supported each other, encouraging the importance of community work and of being part of something bigger than themselves to have greater impact. As a couple, they have always been donors to causes that are important to them. In 2000, they were inspired to create their private family foundation, The Fred R. Fernandez – Irma R. Rodriguez Foundation, Inc. supporting organizations impacting human welfare and health.

 

“UnidosUS’s work—in health, education, civic engagement, workforce development, and training strategies—dovetails with the foundation’s focus areas,” Fred says.

He and Irma believe strongly in the impact that UnidosUS has in the community, in its leadership example-setting for the country, and in the significant role it plays in representing Latinos across spheres. They especially value UnidosUS’s connection to what is happening on the ground within local communities through the UnidosUS Affiliate Network.

“We place great importance on the work UnidosUS does in civic engagement and in comprehensive immigration reform. There is such a lack of recognition for what immigrant communities bring to this country in so many different ways. Whether providing important services in the agricultural, food service, hospitality, and construction industries, we’re seeing such an abuse of our community through a lack of basic resources like adequate pay, housing, and health care support. In short, it’s a lack of opportunity.

“That is why UnidosUS is so important to the community; these challenges are understood and everyone there is working to address them. They know the contacts to focus on, the leadership in Washington, and have a seat at the table. Irma and I are part of something bigger than ourselves by supporting UnidosUS.”

The largest donation awarded by The Fred R. Fernandez – Irma R. Rodriguez Foundation to date has been to the UnidosUS Campaign for Equal Opportunity. “It’s important to demonstrate personal commitment [if we are asking others to give] and to serve as an example,” he says.

In his role as co-chair of the campaign Fred points out that one of the most rewarding experiences has been the opportunity to meet, talk, and connect with diverse groups of people. This includes the Board of Directors, Corporate Board of Advisors (of which he was a member for 15 years), and other national and Affiliate leaders. Reflecting on his role as a campaign co-chair, Fred says, “I am truly honored that Janet and Delia have entrusted to me the role of helping them reach out to make the case for support and to invite participation in the campaign and the mission of UnidosUS.”

During his tenure on the UnidosUS board, Fred served as Board Secretary, chaired the Resource Development Committee, and was a member of the Executive Committee. He served on the taskforce that identified a strong need for a separate entity that would allow the organization to show support for legislative initiatives beneficial to the Latino community and would have the ability to counteract issues in a way we were not able to as a 501(c)3 charity. Fred was instrumental in the development of the UnidosUS Action Fund, a separate 501(c)4 organization, launched in 2015, and joined its board, where he continues to serve as the treasurer today.

When asked about the importance of creating the UnidosUS Action Fund, Fred says, “It is important to be able to counter negative forces—both among candidates running for office and proposed legislation—that will have an adverse impact on the community…the Action Fund has the ability to respond in ways the (c)3 organization cannot. We needed to counteract and correct those policies or positions while demonstrating constructive legislation to support. We also needed to identify and support candidates who understood how policy decisions impacted the community. The 501(c)4 allowed us to help support our civil rights mission of building a stronger Latino community, because we know that when we build a stronger Latino community, we’re building a stronger country.”

In addition to the impact of the work, the “people aspect” of UnidosUS—the leadership and staff—has been a major motivation for Fred’s depth of involvement for nearly four decades. His initial introduction to, then, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in the late 1970s, as a representative of UPS, allowed him to build a personal relationship with longtime President and CEO Raul Yzaguirre. With the arrival of Janet Murguía in 2005, Fred’s engagement with Janet and members of the leadership team has grown even stronger over the years. He is inspired by their dedication and true commitment.

“It’s a great privilege to work with an important organization, led by the right people, that’s done so much for the community over the last 50 years. What an honor to be asked to participate. It’s a gift to us to be able to have a voice in the process. I can’t think of anything more important to do with my time. Janet’s, and her team’s, professionalism and commitment make you want to be a part of the work they’re doing and support it,” says Fred.

The Campaign for Equal Opportunity is building on the strengths of the past for the future, according to Fred, and it is positioning UnidosUS for the next 50 years: to build the infrastructure, programs, and technology to carry the organization even further, and to have greater impact, as the Latino community becomes more influential.

“This feels like the most critical moment in history that I can think of, given the situation of the country. What could be greater, more inspiring, than to help address the current challenges, in a small way, to improve upon the situation we find ourselves in? I believe that is an obligation for each of us: to give back and try to make a difference,” says Fred.

UnidosUS is profoundly grateful to Fred for his steadfast commitment and leadership. His enthusiastic, unwavering support has been key to the success of our Campaign for Equal Opportunity and to the meaningful work we are able to do because of it. Thank you, Fred!

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