“I see the girls and I see my story — my parents didn’t go to schools, they worked the fields,” says Victoria Juarez, executive director of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria. “I had mentors who encouraged me. My job is extremely valuable. We’re providing girls with opportunities that families cannot afford. We’re introducing young women to different experiences.”
Girls Inc. of Carpinteria offers academic and athletic support, after-school programs, and mentoring, among many other services. “We serve girls from 5 to 18, providing experience and confidence,” Victoria shares proudly. “People need to learn a strong sense of who they are and learn to do things with courage and kindness.” The nonprofit, in essence, creates a safe place for girls to learn who they are.
Victoria was born in Kettleman City, the sixth of seven children. In 1994, when she was 15 years old, she helped open the first In-N-Out in her hometown. “It was so team-oriented,” she recalls. “You needed to trust one another. You’re listening to people, trusting people. I learned about customer service and greeting people with a smile. Those things I still do at Girls Inc.”
But her goal was to leave San Joaquin Valley and seek an education. She went to Cal State University-Long Beach and studied history.
After graduating, she joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Russia. “It was extremely transformative for a young kid,” she says. “I had this idea of what Russia was like. I got there and realized they’re just like us.” She was in Russia when 9/11 took place and noticed people were so supportive. Victoria originally wanted to join the State Department, but that experience inspired her to work for the nonprofit sector and serve the community.
She got a job at Project Access Resource Centers in Orange County, which offers health, education, and employment services to low-income families, children and seniors. She later became program director for the YMCA in Long Beach.
In 2007, her husband, Matthew Mooney — who she’d met in history class at Long Beach — was hired as a history professor at SBCC, so they moved to Santa Barbara. She got a development job at Storyteller Children’s Center and was eventually promoted to associate executive director.
Since being hired at Girls Inc. in 2011, Victoria says, “We’ve worked really hard the past five years to stabilize the organization financially.” She’s most proud of the Eureka! Program, a five-year college-bound program that breaks gender stereotypes. Carpinteria was the first Girls Inc. on the Central Coast to implement Eureka!, and one of their original students was awarded $20,000 by Girls Inc.’s national headquarters to attend college.
“We give girls experiences and opportunities that we take for granted,” says Victoria. “We help them see that there’s more out there if you choose.”
She answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
Proud. The team I work with at Girls Inc. steps up each and every day and it has been inspiring to watch them grow professionally. They have approached incredibly challenging situations within the last year with compassion, strength, and calmness. There is no doubt in my mind someday they will move on to lead their own organizations. I am proud that we support them in their efforts to be strong, smart, bold leaders.
Who do you most admire?
My mom. I spent most of my life trying to be everything she was not, or so I naively thought. I realized 12 years ago that she was everything I want to be. She was fierce, compassionate, brave, and a great listener.
What do you like most about your job?
What I am really digging at the moment is our Eureka! program. It is a five-year college-bound program.
There are many programs designed to get first-generation students into college, but Eureka does more than that. It helps girls successfully navigate the journey through middle and high school so they are ready for the challenge of college. And this, ultimately, is the point: harnessing the power of higher education to break the cycle of poverty.
Our first cohort are seniors this year and they have applied everywhere: UCSB, SBCC, Brown, Harvard, Stanford, Long Beach State, UC-Berkeley. It’s pretty exciting!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Mateo (my husband), Chunky (my son), and Merle Haggard’s music, preferably at an all-inclusive resort. Mateo and I discovered Merle years ago and followed him from the Fresno Fair to the dusty fields of Bakersfield and finally the Chumash Casino a few months before he passed away. Someday Chunky will appreciate his music.
What is your greatest fear?
Usually it is complacency. Honestly, right now, it is the uncertainty of our times.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Eating out. I am pretty exhausted by the time I get home and have no desire to cook. Joe’s is our second dining room.
What is the quality you most like in people?
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People who talk and talk and talk and don’t bother to ask a single question.
What do you most value in friends?
Honesty and laughter.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My husband says loyalty.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Awesome. Nice. Right-on. My favorite is Right-on. I picked up the phrase in my teens when I worked for In-N-Out .
Which talent would you most like to have?
Ha! I played volleyball growing up (I warmed the bench for the other players) and I really never felt comfortable spiking a volleyball. So, someday, I would love to learn to just properly spike the “you know what” out of a volleyball. Is this a talent?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am electing to take the fifth on this. This is something I am still processing.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
How about, instead, “What has been my greatest honor?” My mom passed away about 10 years ago and I had the honor (along with my siblings) to care for her at the end of her life. As adults we think that we will be prepared for a moment like this, but I learned that most of us are not. It is brutal, physically and emotionally.
Where would you most like to live?
I would love to spend a semester or a year in Florence or Southeast Asia with Mateo and Chunky. There is something about these areas that continues to draw us back. The world is beautiful and complicated and we really want to introduce Chunky to it.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have my voting stub from the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote (November 5, 1996, in the County of Los Angeles). This stub has followed me across the globe and back. Someday I hope to share it with Chunky. It reminds me how proud and lucky I am to be from the greatest country in the world.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Chelsea Handler is so darn funny. Mateo and I were on a road trip back east some years ago when we dropped into a bookstore to escape the crisp night air in Boston. Her book was featured on a table (I had no idea who she was) and it appeared to be an easy read. Opened it up and could not put it down! She is so damn funny. I found myself laughing out loud with tears rolling down my face!
What is your motto?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
LBJ. I don’t know that I identify with him but certainly appreciate the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.
On what occasion do you lie?
Every day I tell Chunky that “daa buussss” (this is what he calls YouTube) is broken. Sometimes he believes me and sometimes he does not.