Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, JD, has been in the business of the future, particularly when it comes to his work with organizations dedicated to helping children. As such, his new role as CEO of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) is a fitting next step.
Right before joining AG Bell, Mr. Alonso-Mendoza was president and CEO of Take Stock in Children, which provides students with college scholarships and pairs them with a volunteer adult mentor. Before that, he spent six years as president of the $120 million Catholic Community Foundation, where he oversaw operations, raised the organization's profile, and led development efforts for the three-county Archdiocese of Miami.
A few months into his position at AG Bell, which he assumed in April, Mr. Alonso-Mendoza spoke with The Hearing Journal (HJ) about his ideas for moving the organization forward, highlighting the mission to advance listening and spoken language for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
HJ: What attracted you to the CEO position with AG Bell?
Mr. Alonso-Mendoza: My work has always been focused on building something better for people with a particular challenge. I liked that AG Bell was in the business of helping children learn to listen and speak as part of the strategy to overcome their challenges.
During my interviews with the Board members, I was impressed by their heartfelt commitment to the work of AG Bell. Their representation of the association made me very confident that I could have an impact and that my skills and experience would make a difference for the association and our members. I was very excited about the prospect.
Before you took the position, what did you know about AG Bell, and how did you picture your potential role?
I don't have a personal connection to hearing loss, so I was not familiar with the organization before learning of the position. As I became involved in the search process, I began studying the AG Bell website and developing a strategic outlook for how the organization could be improved.
Once I began meeting with Board members, I had a more detailed understanding, and I could adapt my ideas to some of the challenges and opportunities they shared. The staff has been very helpful in informing me of the day-to-day challenges and accomplishments.
How will your past leadership experiences translate to your new position?
I worked for 10 years for the National Parkinson Foundation, which works with patients, caregivers, and professionals to transform the way Parkinson care is delivered. When I was CEO of the organization, I was able to open 52 centers for research throughout the United States and in Europe, South America, and Asia, all through the support of our national fundraising program. I developed close relationships with the presidents and CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies, and I developed 36 chapters and over 900 patient support groups throughout the United States.
With the National Parkinson Foundation, I also had the opportunity to work with incredible, dedicated medical practitioners, and they showed me how caring those professionals are. Their compassion for patients’ families was outstanding. The same understanding holds true for organizations like AG Bell. Humans are blessed with compassion, and when something strikes our hearts, it can build a passion.
I've had the wonderful experience of working for children's causes both with the Children's Home Society of Florida, which is an organization for children who've been neglected or abused, and Take Stock in Children, another Florida organization that is focused on helping low-income children excel academically and achieve their dreams of a college education. I hope to bring my background in working with organizations that support children to AG Bell.
What have been some of your early achievements as CEO of AG Bell?
I am gaining a deeper knowledge of our mission and activities. For example, I'm inviting a dialogue with AG Bell members to gain a better understanding of our impact and what our members need from us.
I've been able to establish a few new efforts for communication and public relations purposes, but our focus at the time I started here was ensuring the AG Bell convention, which occurs every two years, was an outstanding experience for our members and our friends.
What are your goals for the future of the organization?
Our Board of Directors recently adopted a new strategic plan that describes the organization's vision, future, and core values. AG Bell has defined its core purpose and mission to say that we are advancing listening and spoken language for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. What that means is that we're engaged in advocating for the needs and rights of families who choose this communication outcome.
In moving the organization forward, my focus will be on building relationships, increasing public awareness of the organization, improving communication, and strengthening chapters. What helps me is that we have groundbreaking research showing that these initiatives are critical.
In 2013, AG Bell conducted a family needs assessment, which showed that while many families have access to the services needed to help their children succeed, there's still a lot to be done to address the core needs of families and children who have chosen the listening and spoken language outcome.
Following up on that, what are the major challenges facing AG Bell, and how do you propose to address them?
The most important thing to do in months to come is what we're doing right now: improve our communication, broaden our appeals to donors and our sponsors, and, as I said before, build up existing chapters and establish new ones.
For fund-raising purposes, we need a strong case for support, one that paints a better picture of what happens when someone puts their trust and support in AG Bell. We need to ask ourselves, ‘How does that change lives?’
For example, we have a cradle-to-high-school financial aid program and a college scholarship program that eases the lives of the children and families who need us. These programs provide financial support for a wide range of needs. We need to measure our impact better in order to share accountability with our donors and support our children with hearing loss, helping them reach their full potential.
Another area is that we need to advance the work of the AG Bell Academy, which provides certification for professionals who specialize in caring for our children and helping them and their families progress in their listening and spoken language skills. That requires not only financial support, but also an improvement in how we communicate the value of certification to teachers, therapists, and medical professionals.
I think there are far too few professionals who are certified to support the listening and spoken language development of children who are deaf and hard of hearing, yet an increasing number of parents are choosing this outcome for their child. So, it's our responsibility to meet the needs of these children.
Communication and exchange at the local level through chapters will help with all of this, and I'm very happy and excited to be able to use my experience to move that forward.
Only for iPad!
PODCAST INTERVIEW EXTRA: BEHIND THE SCENES AT AG BELL
Only in the November iPad issue, listen in as Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, JD, CEO of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), shares what most interested him about the position, how his past experiences will shape his current leadership role, and what the future holds for the association, which was founded in 1890.
“Throughout my career with nonprofit organizations, I've had the great joy of working for the advancement of good causes and for solutions to challenges in our society,” Mr. Alonso-Mendoza says in the podcast.
His work at AG Bell will be influenced by the organization's mission to advocate for families who pursue listening and spoken language as their communication outcome.
“My focus will be on building relationships, increasing public awareness of the organization, improving communication, and strengthening chapters,” Mr. Alonso-Mendoza says.
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