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Reflection: Young Leaders Society Then & Now

Ten years ago, I was a recent-ish UTEP graduate who had just moved back to El Paso after trying my hand in the Albuquerque job market. After finding a job with the El Paso Times, a good friend I met there had invited me to join a new group called Young Leaders Society. I saw this as an opportunity to expand my social and professional network in a city where networking had yet to catch on.

El Paso’s energy was much different 10 years ago than what we see today. It was difficult to connect with other like-minded individuals who were starting their careers. Many new graduates and young professionals had moved away from El Paso, and the few who stayed didn’t have many avenues to meet and get to know each other. Downtown redevelopment was in its infancy. The streets emptied when office dwellers went home for the day. And the all-important happy hour was a mythical creature, long sought but seldom found.

But most importantly, young professionals didn’t have a platform for their voice and ideas to be heard. They struggled to have their vision for El Paso be seen by those who were making decisions for the city's future.

Young Leaders Society of United Way of El Paso was launched to be that platform. It was created to energize El Paso's young professionals and encourage them to play an active role in the success of their community. It allowed them to meet and mingle at fun events in unique settings. It gave them the opportunity to serve their community. It’s signature events gave them access to El Paso’s emerging and established leaders.

That was my Young Leaders Society. That was what I experienced in 2008, and that was what helped me eventually start my career serving others in El Paso’s non-profit community. It was also the first organization that gave me the opportunity to serve on their advisory board.

El Paso is a different place today. Downtown is alive. Streets are bustling both day and night. And we have many happy hours to choose from.

Today’s Young Leaders Society belongs to you. You are the emerging leaders. You are the visionaries. The question you must answer now is what do you want El Paso to be in the next ten years?

You are the ones who now have the chance to shape El Paso into the city in which you want to live, work and thrive. You have the opportunity to start a path for the next generation to follow.


Vanessa G. Leon is the Development Director for United Way of El Paso County. In this role, she is responsible for managing and executing the annual workplace giving campaigns for the public and private sectors. Vanessa is an El Paso native and has worked in the nonprofit community for the past ten years. Prior to joining United Way of El Paso County, she helped lead the fundraising efforts for El Paso Children’s Hospital with the University Medical Center Foundation. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso where she received a B.A. in Organizational & Corporate Communication with a minor in Creative Writing. Vanessa currently serves as Board Secretary for the Women’s Fund of El Paso and sits on the Museums and Cultural Affairs Advisory Board.

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