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A great workplace for Latinos

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by Patricia Guadalupe

Joseph Roybal headshot_edited.jpg

AARP is consistently recognized as a great place to work. Last year, the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering adults 50+ received a 2023 Top Workplaces Award from the Washington Post based on employee feedback. AARP is also a large organization with more than 5,000 employees and works very closely with its state offices to connect with local communities. 

An example of that is the New Mexico office, headed by State Director Joseph Roybal-Sánchez. He has a staff of six and says they work as a team to serve more than 241,000 members in the state, even advocating for all older adults even if they aren’t AARP members. Under his leadership, AARP helped eliminate the tax on Social Security payments for the majority of New Mexicans. 

“I have twenty years of professional history and this is the one space I feel most passionate about,” he tells LATINO Magazine. “After the work we do day in and day out, I come home every day and feel good about it, working on a variety of issues such as information on how to avoid scams, doing taxes, health and wellness, and driver safety courses. No day is the same.”

Roybal-Sánchez has been with AARP for almost four years, having been with the University of New Mexico as chief of staff for the College of Nursing. He became acquainted with AARP while working with a program to get a higher percentage of nurses earning bachelor’s degrees. “I always knew that AARP worked in many different areas and I always thought that was so fascinating about the organization. I thought if there was ever an opportunity, I would consider that. Lo and behold, it presented itself here in New Mexico.” 

Roybal-Sánchez grew up in a small town in rural New Mexico with parents who stressed the importance of education. He was a first-generation college graduate and went on to earn an MBA and a PhD, in addition to a stint as a Naval Reserve officer. “AARP in New Mexico is a champion for social change. We stand in front of state legislatures, in front of policymakers, to ensure that they are building and creating policies with the lens of older adults in mind and how that impacts them,” he says.

For Roybal-Sánchez, AARP is the perfect place to use the skills he had coming into the organization. But there are also many ways to gain more experience: “I have had the opportunity to advance my knowledge skills and abilities while being here and taking on professional development opportunities.”

Sonia Alvarez couldn’t agree more. The Senior Vice President of Operations, Strategy, and Analysis at AARP headquarters in Washington, D.C., is a native of Puerto Rico and a graduate of Georgetown University. She fell in love with the area and decided to stay, pursuing an MBA at the University of Maryland and then working at AOL. Alvarez has been with AARP for 19 years, starting in data analytics supporting membership efforts and worked with a variety of units across the organization. She is currently responsible for business operations in the division that includes strategic planning and budgeting, as well as the newest technology initiatives. 
“It’s a broad role, making sure our budget is accurate, that our forecasting is accurate, and that we have the resources to drive social change. Mostly behind the scenes, but I do love it,” she says. “AARP is particularly good for Latinos and Latinas because it is very diverse and all perspectives are valued and respected. It’s not cutthroat and a fabulous place to be. The issues we work on resonate a lot, such as caregiving and fraud prevention. Every day I get to see how meaningful our work really is.” 

Roybal-Sánchez adds that diversity is front and center for AARP: “As the nation becomes more diverse, AARP is ensuring that its social mission reflects the changing demographic and needs of all older adults, helping our families. With more than 62 million Hispanics living in the United States, AARP not only celebrates our successes but prides itself in being a source for the community and not just during Hispanic Heritage Month.” 

AARP’s advocacy work often involves working with AARP Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm which focuses on economic empowerment. William Alvarado Rivera is Senior Vice President for Litigation at AARP Foundation, where he manages a squad of lawyers who advocate for the rights of older adults to ensure that they have a voice in the judicial system. Alvarado Rivera’s work includes employment discrimination, employee benefits, housing, caregiving, and consumer issues such as financial fraud. 

Born to Puerto Rican parents in New York City, he is a graduate of Brown University and spent a year in Sweden as a Fulbright scholar where he studied anti-poverty programs. A graduate of Stanford University law school, he spent several years serving in the federal government under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations in both the Justice Department and Health and Human Services where he worked on litigation and policy issues. Alvarado Rivera joined AARP in 2015.

“The opportunity was to essentially run my own law firm and take a combination of all that policy experience, the mission-driven work and litigation skills, and put all those things together with the opportunity to drive social change in a different way. The foundation in particular looks at low-income older adults and vulnerable populations,” he says. It also includes litigating and doing other legal work, such as filing amicus briefs in support of cases of interest to AARP. 

Alvarado Rivera admits that he wasn’t even looking for his current position, but a colleague who used to work at AARP told him about the opportunity: “[My colleague] thought of me because we had kept in touch. It’s the value of serendipity and building out your networks, as well as getting known and being involved.” 

The employee network for Latinos at AARP is called Adelante, and all three are members. Alvarez advises: “Invest in building relationships and look for opportunities to connect with others, such as with Adelante. It makes you more effective and efficient and I was able to change roles within the organization because I had built relationships and learned about other parts of the business. It’s very valuable and a great way to connect.”

Roybal-Sánchez agrees and urges Latinos to “stay visible in the work that you do. Show up and get involved early and make your name known to people. Pat yourself on the back. One of our deficits is that we’re too humble. We say, this is good enough and we settle. If you don’t ask you’re never going to get it. I think we put ourselves sometimes in this bucket where we say this is as much as where we’re going to be able to get so be happy with that. We need to help each other. With a group like Adelante, we’re a network of people who care about each other and we talk about opportunities and how we can elevate each other.”    

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