“Growing up, I never knew I was low-income,” says Steve Ortiz. “My parents always provided. They sacrificed themselves a lot so we could achieve the American dream.”
Steve is the incoming president and CEO of the United Way of Santa Barbara County, the nonprofit that seeks to create lasting, meaningful solutions rather than short-lived approaches to community problems by improving education, financial stability, and health. “I’m a product of similar programs,” he shares with me over lunch. “I love finding ways of impacting the community the way I was helped.”
Steve grew up in Bell in South Los Angeles, his dad from Guatemala, his mom from Mexico. He’s indebted to their hard work, but also to teachers who went out of their way to guide him into opportunities such as UCSB’s Chicano Latino Outreach Program (now called the College Link Outreach Program). That gave Steve an all-expense paid college experience for three day and two nights while he was still in high school. The goal, then as now, is to demonstrate that a higher education is attainable no matter what adversities you face.
Eventually, Steve studied finance at UCSB while working full-time. He became financial manager for Devereux California, whose operations and facilities then spanned from Santa Barbara to San Diego. He also became in charge of College Link, which is where he met his wife, sharing long rides to Los Angeles to recruit students. “We didn’t like each other at first, but eventually a friendship developed,” he confesses. She wanted to execute things differently from Steve. “She was the first person who challenged me and that in itself attracted me to her,” he admits laughing.
He started doing development and marketing for the United Way 11 years ago, where he is “able to blend my two passions: my financial knowledge and my duty to give back.”
The United Way is in the middle of 10-year plan entitled “The Power of Partnership,” designed to improve education, financial empowerment, and health in Santa Barbara County. “I’m looking forward to seeing it through,” he states with confidence.
Steve answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m excited and optimistic about life: I’ve recently experienced positive growth in both my personal and professional life. I am excited about the opportunity to raise a family and to lead United Way of Santa Barbara County. I’m optimistic about our greater community and humanity. I believe that good people outnumber the bad. We should focus on promoting the good we see and experience.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My DISC assessment characterizes me as a high D and C. So I guess I’m very determined and systematic, yet venturesome and open-minded. If you ask my wife and colleagues, they would probably focus on my systematic approach to everything.
Where would you most like to live?
I love where I live. Being a transplant from the suburbs of south Los Angeles, I am most satisfied with this beautiful town. Here is where I met my wife, bought my first home, and started my family. The ocean, mountains, excellent weather, and people — why would I leave this community?
Who do you most admire?
My beautiful wife, Amber. She is an incredible mother, a successful professional, a caring friend, a dedicated community volunteer for many organizations…and she still puts up with me!
What do you like most about your job?
The ability to work with individuals and organizations to create, manage, and support strategic partnerships that deliver programs/services that will help improve our local community.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness comes when I’m surrounded by family and close friends. It’s the feeling I have during a conversation with friends, being present with my kids, or just a quiet drive with loved ones. I am thankful for those in my life. They make me happy.
What is your greatest fear?
I tend to worry about the safety and well-being of my wife and kids. I guess the actual fear is not being there, next to them, when they need me the most.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love to travel and immerse myself in new cultures, ideas, and taste great food. When I plan a vacation, I want to see and experience everything the destination has to offer. No limits. I may never have the opportunity to visit again.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Drive. I enjoy being around people who have a sense of purpose. Drive is contagious and motivates me to keep pushing to achieve personal and professional goals.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
What do you most value in friends?
Honesty. Accountability. Respect. And Humor
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Awesome. It’s just an awesome word! I use it as a motivator, to celebrate success, and as a stamp of approval.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to sing once again. I don’t want to be a professional singer; I just want to be able to sing in the car or with my kids and not scare myself. When I was young I was in a church and school choir. I believe I had a decent voice. Puberty took that talent away from me.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am happy with who I am. I wouldn’t change a thing. However, as someone who played competitive basketball my whole life, a few more inches of height would have helped.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My kids. Izzie and Ethan. I love them. They are both smart and adventurous. Doctors have confirmed that they are MY achievement, at least partially since my wife can also take credit.
What is your most treasured possession?
My family album. My mom started an album for me that covers my life from birth until I moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB. That album contains some of the best family photos and memories of my upbringing. I enjoy browsing through the photos periodically.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My three brothers. We have a close relationship and when we are together we cry a lot. Many tears of intense laughter are shed.
What is your motto?
“Attitude is everything.” We can choose how we react to any circumstance. Even when things don’t seem to be going my way, I tend to focus on the “bright side” because a positive attitude always leads to a much faster solution to any challenge.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No one specific comes to mind. However, I’m most interested in individuals who have left a positive stamp on the world: humanitarians, philanthropists, and everyday people who impact their local community.
On what occasion do you lie?
Right now. When I’m telling you I don’t lie.
I may, on occasions, omit information that I deem hurtful to others. I’m not sure if that’s a lie, but it’s definitely not the whole truth.