Alumni couple are community leaders in West Sacramento

Oscar and Katie Villegas’ first date was probably not the most romantic – they were working on a Sacramento City College professor’s campaign for the Yolo County Sheriff – but it certainly presaged their years as a couple since.

VillegasThe Sacramento State alums have been active in politics and in the community virtually their entire post-graduation life, Oscar ’89 (Criminal Justice) as a longtime city councilmember in West Sacramento and now as a member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, Katie ’89 (Psychology), MSW ’92 as the executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance and a former member of the Washington Unified School District Board of Education.

“My parents were always involved in social issues,” says Katie. “It was a natural thing for me to go into this. It was just kind of what we always did, like my kids have always been involved in social issues. It’s a cool thing to do that as a family and feel like you’re making a difference in your community.”

Katie spent plenty of time on the Sacramento State campus growing up, since she lived in East Sacramento just a mile from campus. But no matter where she lived, she would have been connected to the University: Her mother, brother, and sister are fellow alums. Oscar, who grew up in West Sacramento, was the first in his family to attend college. Both of their children now attend Sacramento State, making three generations of Hornets in the family.

Throughout both Oscar and Katie’s careers, public and community service is a common thread. After graduation, Katie went to work for the Sacramento Children’s Home before returning to Sacramento State for her master’s degree. From there, she trained HIV counselors at the state’s Office of AIDS before moving to the Yolo County Children’s Alliance, where she has been since 2006. She also served on the school board in West Sacramento from 2012 to 2016.

Following his graduation, Oscar landed one of several newly created positions in the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs’ (ADP) investigations unit. He stayed with the department for more than a decade, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to be the deputy director of the California Mentoring Partnership in 2003, and in 2008 began working as a field representative with the Board of State and Community Corrections. He was a member of the West Sacramento City Council from 2000 to 2014, when he was appointed to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.

While at Sacramento State, both Oscar and Katie participated in internships that ultimately led to jobs following graduation: Katie worked at the Office of AIDS as a graduate student, while Oscar interned at ADP. Both say the ability to learn from professors with real-world experience was instrumental in preparing them for their careers.

“I actually got to sit in a class and listen to a former FBI agent, a Sacramento County district attorney, the current probation chief for Sacramento County, police chiefs,” Oscar says. “These were folks that had very real-world experience and could share their experiences in a way where they engaged you in a very real way.”

For the Villegas, West Sacramento is a town on the rise, where everyone knows each other and has bought into the city’s success, and where it’s easy to see the impact of your hard work.

“In West Sacramento, one of the things I hear often is, ‘Hey, I want to get involved,’” Oscar says. “And I say, ‘What are you actually interested in? Not what you think will get you where you want to be, but what are you interested in today? Where does your heart tell you that you want to be impactful, and in what arena is that? And I can guarantee there’s an opportunity for you to volunteer, to participate where you can make a difference.’”

And as for the advice they would offer to current Sacramento State students like their two children?

“Just soak it all up, really enjoy your college years, make friends and have fun” Katie says. “Appreciate it for what it is. You’re not going to love every class that you have to take, and that’s OK, because in the real world, you’re going to be working in environments that aren’t necessarily the best. It’s important to learn to know what you like and learn to know when you need to make a change.”

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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.”