Chrismaldi Vasquez is Associate Director at Family Independence Initiative (FII) Boston, an organization that leverages the power of information to support economic and social mobility in the United States. Prior to joining FII in 2013, Vasquez served as Director of Capacity and Assessment for Boston Rising, a start-up foundation focused on breaking the cycle of generational poverty in Boston neighborhoods. She also has spent more than a decade working in community organizing and development.
On January 23, 2015 Vasquez was invited to the Boston College School of Social Work to share her expertise with students as the latest featured guest in the school’s Leadership Speakers Luncheon Series. During her talk, Vasquez spoke at length on the importance of bridging the gap between community work and business in order to find lasting solutions to truly effect change. One way to begin to accomplish this is through strong communication. “What I appreciated was how she not only spoke to the importance of strong communication, but how she demonstrated the skill throughout the entire lunch,” says an attendee.
Vasquez urged the group to use a strengths based perspective in their work moving forward, “always leaning into communities’ gifts and abilities,” explains one student, “trusting that if we lift up and develop the strengths people already possess, positive solutions to problems will come on their own.”
Here, Vasquez talks with BC Social Work about some of the topics addressed during their luncheon, and she expands upon the importance of gaining a strong foothold in the communities in which we serve.
What does it mean to be a social worker in 2015?
I’m not a licensed social worker myself, I work in non-profit leadership. For all of us seeking to foster social justice, though, I believe that our work begins in the community. We are called to help supplement solutions that are already in existence, facilitate connections between like-minded individuals who hold shared stakes in each others’ success, and provide families with the tools to take control of their own lives, now, and moving into the future.
Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in the field.
Again, leaders need to pay attention to noticing potential solutions around assets that already exist. Really get to know the communities you serve, and figure out what is already taking place, and work together to find ways to expand the impact of positive initiatives. Be aware that creating a new program isn’t always the best way to build success in a community, sometimes a simple idea and intervention is enough to help someone who is in need, and to get them on the right path to a better life. Be open to ideas you may be surprised by.
What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be social work leaders in the future?
There is a lot that you can’t read in a book, or learn in an academic setting. Seek out mentors who will challenge you and network intelligently. Meet new people – the next person you meet might be the one who opens the right door to the right job. Never stop developing yourself. You can always learn and get better at what you do.
“Three Questions for a Social Work Leader” is a recurring column at Innovate@BCSW, designed to share some of the knowledge imparted to the Boston College community by social work professionals from beyond our campus walls.