Karina Contreras Successful Young Latino Woman Goes After the American Dream

by María González Amarillo
Karina Contreras is only 19 years old, and she already works for Wells Fargo, has an internship with the San Francisco Police Department, and studies Business Economics at San Francisco State University. She was this year’s winner of the FutureBoss program, and was named Youth Scholarship Recipient as part of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. She clearly knows her career goals.
“While looking at the scholarships the school offers, I came across the FutureBoss program”, she says to La Prensa. “I had to make a video about what I expected to learn during the program and what type of business I wanted to create. 30 finalists, including myself, were selected out of 600 applicants from all over California.”

The FutureBoss program was created Miguel D. Vasquez, CEO of the foundation bearing the same name, and is chaired by National City Mayor Ron Morrison. The goal is to support young entrepreneurs who want to have a positive impact in the world. Finalists are given the chance to attend lessons at  Alliant International University for three days to learn how to develop a business plan. Karina decided to create the non-profit organization “Adelante Amistad”, aimed at improving  quality of life for the elderly.

“The idea and my passion came to me when I helped seniors with my mother at a center in Tijuana. Since the Mexican government started to recognize said organization I told myself, I want to do something like this in San Diego, but bigger and better”, she explains. “I don’t think you can open a business just for the money, or because someone else did well after doing so. If you are not passionate about it, you can lose sight of your vision. That is what helped me present my plan so well.”
The contestants had very different backgrounds and the classes were very interesting, according to the young entrepreneur. She felt as if she was indeed attending the university and appreciated the program’s system and the teachers’ enormous support, including some USD mentors who also participated.

“Each finalist had their own vision and you could learn from each of them, see their ideas and broaden your vision”, she remarks. “And it wasn’t just about attending the class and listening to what you needed to do, you actually had to go home and work on it. Creating a business plan takes a long time, but the teachers helped, taught you some parts and even asked for your opinion. They teach you the information, but the motivation has to come from yourself.”

Karina’s presentation so impressed one of the judges evaluating on the third day that he, who happened to work for Wells Fargo, recommended her for a position at the bank. Her acceptance into San Francisco State University also allowed her to move to San Francisco four months ago and be on her own for the first time. Her internship at the San Francisco Police Department rounds out her list of resolutions, at least for now.

“I’ve always wanted to work at Wells Fargo. When I went to the group interview in San Francisco, I was the only 19-year-old there; everyone else was 30 or 40. Yet they chose me. I also applied for an internship with the police two months ago, and was one of two people selected from 700 applicants. It’s a lot of work, but this is what I want, and it’s a first step towards achieving my dream of working in administration at  FBI headquarters and contributing to stopping crime”, she says, grateful for how the FutureBoss program has helped her get to where she is today.

The young woman’s mindset was shaped by her family, who are Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. with little money and, through their hard work, started and grew a business. They now own a local chain of restaurants throughout San Diego called Karina’s Mexican Seafood. Their actions taught her that the American Dream is possible, so she is unafraid of facing whatever challenges the future might bring.

“FutureBoss allowed me to see that everything is possible, that my business could work, and that people believed in me. But achieving my dream of working for the FBI has to be done one step at a time. That’s why Wells Fargo is good at my age, it will teach me how to manage customers and handle  money. I also decided to move away from San Diego because I wanted to learn, to know what it is like to have no money. You don’t feel this way living with your family”, she says.

Karina is working on perfecting her business plan and will launch her organization once she feels ready after her studies. The non-profit would be her way to give back to the community, even after reaching her dream of working at the FBI. She hopes that her future community center will serve as a place where seniors can meet, interact with each other and the center’s staff, and realize that they are still capable of doing things for themselves and enjoying life through daily activities, events, trips, and a well-trained staff.

“The first thing I learned was to create a business plan and that you need to be passionate about it. You could think at first that you can start a business overnight; however,  it’s hard to present your ideas properly unless you feel the business as your own, and that it will be good for both your customers and yourself. There are many aspects to consider: numbers, how to attract customers”, stated Ms. Contreras.

“A week ago, I did a presentation in my Communications course at the University where I showed my classmates how to do a business plan. If I hadn’t attended the FutureBoss program, I wouldn’t have been able to do that”, she adds. “I basically proved to myself that, with effort, I can achieve anything I want.”

Prior to her move to San Francisco, Ms. Contreras had lived in San Diego her whole life, other than a year spent in Tijuana. She feels part of the Mexican community, and this bond has awoken in her a passion she had never felt before. She considers herself as a good example for young people, women, and the Latino community in general.

“I went through many difficulties, I couldn’t even write my last name in second grade! But I learned to get over them. My cousins said, how were you accepted to that university?! I have motivated myself, I put a lot of effort into it, and I am proof that it’s possible. My classmates are impressed when I show up to class wearing business clothes”, she laughs.

Her take-home message is to follow your dreams in spite of obstacles, to know what you want and that you can achieve it, and to plan your steps without expecting results overnight. “Be patient and believe in yourself”, she says.

The FutureBoss program has partnerships with Alliant International University, Wells Fargo Bank, Ernst & Young, San Diego Gas & Electric, the California Foundation Fund, and twenty more local organizations. Next year, the program will take place in April and students will be able to submit their applications at futureboss.org beginning on January 15th.

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