Alumna’s nonprofit focuses on getting Latinas engaged with their community

When she was younger, Angela Rosas ’08 (Journalism) used volunteering to escape – from school, from unavoidable circumstances, and from a low-income neighborhood that was plagued by the issues that often affect impoverished communities. But as she got older, she started to notice something alarming about the organizations at which she served.

“There were a large amount of Latinos utilizing those services, but there wasn’t a lot of giving back,” she says. “Rarely did I see Latinos on staff. Rarely did I see Latinos volunteering.”

Angela-Rosas-webBelieving it was critical that the people serving the community shared a background with and understood the experiences of those they were helping, Rosas decided to take matters into her own hands. In 2009, she started her own nonprofit, Chicas Latinas de Sacramento, which is dedicated to promoting civic engagement among Latinas and increase the number of them who volunteer in the community. What began as a meet-and-greet dinner with 15 women has grown into an organization with more than 250 members that sponsors a variety of programs, events and partnerships that serve the Sacramento region.

Rosas’ day job is as a director for Mercury Public Affairs’ Sacramento office, where she serves as a consultant for some of the firm’s largest statewide clients, including The California Endowment and California Environmental Justice Alliance. But she also has nurtured her lifelong passion for volunteering, sparked in part by her belief that, as long as she has the ability, she has no choice but to pay it forward.

“It was also a way for me to be a light for the next generation in my family,” she says. “I wanted the kids in my family to see that I was getting educated, that I was going to college, that I was volunteering and being a part of my community.”

Rosas transferred to Sacramento State after attending community college locally. She worked multiple jobs – and her father picked up extra work – to pay for tuition, which allowed her to graduate debt-free. The flexibility that the University provides students – through night or online classes, for example – as well as the accessibility of her professors and counselors were essential to her success, she says.

“Sac State, for me, was an introduction to the rest of the world,” Rosas says. “It absolutely prepared me (for life after graduation). It brought me together with people from all over. The diversity of the campus was fantastic. I felt like I was part of the community.”

Knowing she was a strong writer, she studied journalism so that she could help tell the stories of her community and Latinos in general, and after graduation began work as a multimedia reporter in Tulare County. It wasn’t long, however, before her hometown beckoned her back. She returned to Sacramento to work as a grant-writer for a nonprofit organization that provided job training for displaced farmworkers. It was during that time she founded Chicas Latinas, eventually quitting her job to focus all of her energy on the nonprofit.

Just after Chicas Latinas became an officially registered nonprofit organization in 2012, Rosas began working full-time again, handling statewide marketing and business development for a Sacramento law firm before moving to Mercury in 2015.

As the founder and CEO of Chicas Latinas, she remains the public face of the organization, signing the checks, overseeing board meetings, and attending volunteer events when she can. But she says she is grateful for the dedicated team – all unpaid – that allows her to continue working full time and has helped the nonprofit she started continue to grow and thrive.

In addition to her work with Chicas Latinas, Rosas also is a member of Cien Amigos, an advocacy organization working for California and Mexico, and serves on the board of directors for Festival de la Familia. Her work has not gone unnoticed: She has received the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Rising Estrella Award; was featured in 2015 as a “Top Latino Influencer” by Vida en el Valle; was nominated in 2014 as a “Coors Light Lideres of the Year”; named in 2012 an “Inspiring Young Latina” by Latina Magazine; and was honored at the 2011 Sacramento Women of Color Day.

The recognition can be awkward, Rosas says, and when the awards come, she dedicates them to her parents, whose constant support she says has been instrumental to her success.

“My college degree, I felt, was ultimately for them,” she says. “They still have my degree. I gave it to them because they invested in me before I knew to invest in me. I felt like they earned that degree as much as I did.”

Helping to power downtown Sacramento’s rebirth, one pedal at a time

Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian, left, and Jason Blessinger are the co-founders of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours in downtown Sacramento.

There are a lot of new things to see if you head to Sacramento’s downtown these days, from the Golden 1 Center to the Downtown Commons. But Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian’s contribution may be the most unique – and the one that does the most to tie it all together.

Sebastian ’00 (Recreation) is the co-founder of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, which provides tours of downtown on a 15-passenger bus that is powered, via pedal, by riders. Equipped with lights, a sound system, and, yes, a cooler and on-board tap system, the vehicle allows visitors to experience Sacramento’s growing downtown in a slightly offbeat way.

OTC CapThe company’s core mission, according to Sebastian, is “fun” – his official title is “Foreman of Festivities” and his co-founder, Jason Blessinger, is the “Godfather of Good Times.” They rent out the bike for everything from food and beer tastings to corporate trainings to kids’ birthday parties. By offering the tours, and by partnering with dozens of downtown restaurants, bars and other venues, Off the Chain is introducing people to Sacramento’s reborn downtown district.

“I can’t tell you how many people come down here and they go, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t been down here in five years, I can’t believe all the changes,’” Sebastian says. “We hear that every single ride.”

A native of Elk Grove, Sebastian transferred to Sacramento State from Cosumnes River College in part because it was local and affordable, but also because he knew attending would allow him to network and make contacts that would be helpful when he set down roots in the region.

“(Sac State) made me focus, it made me quickly recognize what I loved,” he says. “It gave me a sense of pride with the campus and the community. I still hold Sac State very fondly in my heart.” He doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his time as a Hornet: Three of Off the Chain’s five employees are fellow alums.

After graduation, Sebastian worked for the Fair Oaks Parks and Recreation District, and even returned briefly to Sacramento State to work at The WELL and teach some recreation courses. Then, Blessinger approached him with one of his trademark crazy ideas that Sebastian was used to writing off. This time, however, he instantly fell in love with the concept.

The pair were able to pitch their idea as part of the Calling All Dreamers program, an entrepreneurship competition put on by the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, where they finished second. That didn’t net them prize money, but it did give them credibility around town – including with the Small Business Association and the City of Sacramento – and helped them secure a loan.

OTC Brown
Governor Jerry Brown signed the law permitting the bike buses to operate on city streets while riding in one of Off the Chain’s buses.

Even with start-up money and the support of local movers and shakers secured, however, a major obstacle remained: The bike wasn’t technically legal. Sebastian met with lawmakers and over the course of a year secured a change in state law that classified the bikes as “pedi-cabs” and allowed open alcohol containers so long as the vehicle remained under a certain speed and was staffed by both a dedicated driver and a “chauffer” with a bartending certification. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill while riding the bike with his staff.

“That was hands-down the coolest thing I have accomplished in my career,” Sebastian says.

Although bike buses sometimes come with a reputation of being “booze cruises,” Sebastian says they have worked hard to make sure that the bike, not alcohol, is the primary experience. While on the tour, riders can partake in activities such as on-board trivia or karaoke, or participate in Survivor– and Amazing Race-like challenges, which are popular with corporate team-building events.

The two also have worked hard to ensure their presence downtown is positive. The bikes have electric assist technology to make pedaling more enjoyable for passengers, but also to make sure the bikes can be moved quickly in the event of an emergency or the street needs to be cleared. They plot routes that are minimally disruptive to traffic. And they partner with 45 downtown venues, often reaching out proactively to make sure their riders won’t disrupt a restaurant or bar’s normal business. Sebastian often hears back from partners who say bike bus riders liked the venue so much that they came back.

“For us, it might be a long day, we have four tours, and we’re sweating, but at the end of the day, we went to 12 different venues, they all made money, but most importantly you have 65, 70 people leaving with great memories and laughing the whole time,” he says. “That’s the cool thing at the end of the day, when you know you gave those people a good time.”

Alumna-fronted band Rituals of Mine returns home to Sacramento

It’s been a busy few months for the Sacramento State alumna-fronted band Rituals of Mine.

The electronic duo of alumna Terra Lopez (’07, English) and Dani Fernandez, formerly known as Sister Crayon, changed its name before launching a national tour last summer that took it to some of the West Coast’s biggest venues. Their major-label debut, Devoted, was released in September.

Now, they’re coming home. Rituals of Mine are the first headliners in the 2017 Concerts in the Park, a series of free shows in Cesar Chavez Plaza that kicks off May 5.

To learn more about Lopez and Rituals of Mine’s long and sometimes challening journey from experimental electronic project to major-label mainstay, check out our July profile of the duo in the Made at Sac State blog.

More information can be found at godowntownsac.com/concerts-in-the-park/.