Robert Chavez and Youth Development Inc. have the deepest of bonds.
Same goes for Robert Chavez and the Los Padillas area south of Albuquerque.
The man who just became CEO of the youth and family services nonprofit first walked through its doors at age 14, when he was assigned to work as a recreation aide at the Los Padillas Community Center.
Los Padillas has been home to Chavez’s family for hundreds of years. It’s where he raised his kids, and it’s where he still lives with his wife, also a Los Padillas native.
“YDI for me instilled confidence, a belief in my work abilities,” Chavez says. “It allowed me to expand. A young person, when you’re starting out at work … it’s hard.”
Raised by his grandmother, Chavez was not only able to earn a paycheck at YDI, but its job training program also taught him how not to get fired. For example, if you decide to skip a day of work, you probably should let the boss know.
“I had a baseball tournament, so I just went to it instead of work and didn’t call,” he says. “I got a call from the (YDI) job counselor and the (community center) supervisors, saying ‘We need to talk to you.’ So I had to learn those skills.”
Chavez ended up doing a bit of everything at the 51-year-old organization, including clerical work in the organization’s office, job counseling, staffing at the residential center (graveyard shift) and management of the summer employment programs.
He left YDI “with a heavy heart” in 2000 and moved on to executive positions at Intel, the state Board of Nursing, the state Behavioral Health Services Division and the state Income Support Division. He returned to YDI for good in 2017 to become chief operations officer and then chief executive officer, effective July 1 of this year.
YDI, plus a love of baseball, are what kept the young Chavez out of trouble.
“Sports kept me away from the gang, kept me busy, just like the job at YDI,” he says.
You’ve been involved in job development at YDI for a long time. How do the programs work?
“We’re a partner with (the state Department of) Workforce Solutions. Like many of the programs at YDI, we’ll do assessments of their (participants’) skills, their career interests and we look at labor market information, what kind of careers and paths are going to be hiring in the next three to five years. We pair up the participants’ needs and interests with the work site. We train the work site supervisor, who agrees to mentor and train them, and YDI agrees to pay their (the youths’) salary and provide support. Some of it could be transportation. We provide clothing, if they don’t have proper clothing.”
Is there a YDI program you’re especially proud of?
“We have about 55 programs. I’m (proud) of them all. If I had to pick one that I wish we had more of, it would be Courts for Sports in Valencia County. It provides financial support for youths, whether they’re in chess, cheerleading, dance, if they’re in baseball, football, any kind of activity. I see so many kids nowadays who sometimes can’t be in activities because they don’t have the financial resources to register.”
What was it like growing up in Los Padillas?
“I wouldn’t want to grow up anywhere else. It was just one of those things where your friendships were deep, and there was exposure to diversity — economic diversity, cultural diversity, being exposed to different cultures. There were folks and families that did well, but half my Little League team from one year have overdosed or gone to prison, and half of us went on to school and college and professional careers. It was that diverse.”
What do you do when you’re not working?
“I spend time with my family. I have three children. Being raised with my grandmother and no father figure — I had mentors, uncles — but I just knew I wanted to spend as much time as I can in their lives, so I’ve always done that. I like golf. I’m not very good at it. I’ve always enjoyed all kinds of sports. Baseball. I like going to live games.”
What makes you sad?
“When you’re doing everything you can, and you just can’t find the service that’s necessary. Or see a family that comes back, things didn’t go well for them. Recently, I was saddened because one of my brother’s childhood friends committed a horrible crime. I remember him coming over as a young child when we were growing up. I remember telling my brother, ‘This guy’s going to get in trouble,’ and warning him about the potential for gang involvement and violence. Fortunately, my brother listened and kind of disassociated himself. But I think, ‘What could we have done differently? Could we have been more engaged in his life?’ So I think things like that make me sad, when I can’t help or do something for somebody.”
What’s on your bucket list?
“I always wanted, growing up, to go to each major league (baseball) stadium. Some day when I retire, that’s something I’m going to do.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Growing up in Los Padillas, attending Los Padillas Elementary, Polk Middle School and Rio Grande High School, and then earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees was something that seemed not attainable. I did both. I was the first one in my family to do that. Also, when I stepped on the campus of Harvard University (to take two leadership and management classes) — that was something I only dreamed of. All this (started) from me being a 14-year-old in YDI’s summer job training program to where I am now, blessed to be its CEO. This would be my greatest achievement.”
THE BASICS: Robert Chavez, 53, born in Albuquerque; married to Mia Chavez since 1992; three children, Xavier, 27, Isaiah, 22, and Isabella, 17; one dog, Cupcake, a Maltese; bachelor’s in business management, 1997, and master’s in organizational management, 1999, both from University of Phoenix; practical project management certificate, University of New Mexico, 2016.
POSITIONS: Chief executive officer, YDI, effective July 1, 2022; chief operations officer, YDI, 2017-2022; chief operations officer and division director, state Board of Nursing, 2016-2017; deputy director, program administration, Income Support Division, 2015-2016; executive vice president, YDI, 2014-2015; deputy director of finance and contracting and financial manager, state Behavioral Health Services Division, 2009-2014; county director/operations manager, Income Support Division, 2007-2009; associate director of Head Start, YDI, 2006-2007; manufacturing/productions supervisor, Intel Corp., 2000-2006.
OTHER: Member, New Mexico Counseling and Therapy Practice Board; president, Mark Armijo Academy Foundation; member, New Mexico Counseling and Therapy Practice Board; former president, Los Padillas Acequia Association.