The Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) would like to recognize Maria Pardo Huete, who became the first woman of color to serve as President when she assumed the role on the 2016-2017 Board of Directors.
Described as a trailblazer by her peers, Maria is credited with initiating impactful community programs such as the Diaper Bank and the Huete Scholarship. She has served in many capacities throughout her tenure as an active member and continues to lend support and guidance as Nominating Sustaining Advisor. In addition to her endless generosity and voluntarism with JLNO, Maria is the Director of Institutional Advancement at Catholic Charities. Today, she candidly shares with us her JLNO experience.
Tell us about your early career and how you became involved in JLNO.
My early career was in college recruitment and then high school education. I took time off to devote to my triplets, and when Katrina happened, I was looking for ways to help my community in meaningful ways. JLNO fit what I was looking for, and I took to it like a duck to water.
Is there anything about your experience joining JLNO that you would like to share?
When I first told someone I was going to join the League in 2006, her first question to me was, “Do they know you’re Hispanic?” Which did cause me to pause, but since my sponsor was Hispanic and seemed happy, I figured there wasn’t going to be an issue. And there wasn’t. I wish we had more Hispanic members.
When/what was your first Board position and experience?
My first JLNO Board experience was in 2012-2013 when I was the Business and Communications Council Director. It was one of the best League years I had, and every subsequent time, I learned something new about myself, the League and what training an ably prepared volunteer means.
How has your involvement progressed as your career developed?
My career has progressed based on my involvement. Every placement gave me an opportunity to learn about my skill set, what I liked and didn’t like and how to manage difficult situations. It exposed me to different issues affecting our community that, after I served as President and was ready to re-enter the workforce, I looked to the non-profit sector for opportunities.
What was the inspiration for starting the Diaper Bank?
I cannot take sole credit for the Diaper Bank. The idea arose during one of our strategic planning sessions wherein we developed the focus on women’s wellbeing as a part of the Issue Based Community Impact (ICBI) model for the future. We were looking for a new project that would fit the bill and I came across an article about diaper needs and passed it on. If anywhere along the way the idea had been met with resistance, we would not have a Diaper Bank. Every woman who interacted with the idea can take credit for making it a reality.
How has the Diaper Bank helped the Greater New Orleans community?
There are two reasons the Diaper Bank is important to me. One is from an aspect of mental health for the mother. Being unable to care for your child by changing their diaper can be one of the most stressful situations for a new mother. I was privileged enough to never question if I would have a diaper at hand, and I was still stressed. Secondly, I approach it from an economic standpoint. Single mothers who cannot put their children into daycare because of a lack of diapers will never be able to maintain consistent work that can enable them to break the cycle of poverty.
Tell us about the Huete Scholarship and its impact.
My husband David and I started the Huete Scholarship because we believe that if a small investment in a person had the potential to change their lives in a meaningful way, we wanted to be the ones who made that difference. My mother was kept from accounting school because my grandmother could not afford tuition. My mother is one of the smartest and hardworking women I know, but her wings got clipped.
What has been your favorite part of volunteering with JLNO?
Meeting JLNO members. Every single one of them has inspired me or made me realize something about myself that I have internalized and worked to make better within myself. I have made lifelong friends through the League, and I can say JLNO has given me far more than I have given it.