Armando Velazquez, 1999 McElwain Recipient:
Armando Velazquez will tell you that, for him, Kiwanis is all about the service. Armando, or Mondo as he is more affectionately known, has been engaged in Kiwanis service for more than 15 years, and he loves community service today as much as he did 15 years ago. Bitten by the service bug in junior high, Mondo has become a shining star within Kiwanis, serving as a Key Club Lt. Governor, Circle K District Governor and Circle K International Trustee, to name just a few. A passionate and dedicated advocate for children, Mondo has an equally large commitment to the Kiwanis Cal-Nev-Ha Foundation which he credits for helping him adopt so many of the skills and qualities that have propelled him to where he is today.
Armando’s older sister was a member of her high school Key Club and while he was in junior high, she invited Armando to join her during a Graffiti Paint Out project. The Graffiti Paint Out was Mondo’s first glimpse into Key Club, and he instantly fell in love with what he saw. Before becoming a true Key Club member, Mondo would go on to volunteer for several other service projects, including Christmas Caroling for Cans; a food drive benefiting his community.
Once he entered high school, Mondo wasted no time getting involved and joined his high school Key Club during his freshman year. Mondo instantly bonded with his Key Club advisors, whom he says made him feel connected and empowered during his high school career. During his sophomore year, Mondo was elected as Club President, which he followed up by serving as Key Club Lt. Governor for Division 13, and, then, serving on the Key Club District Board during his senior year. During his tenure as a Key Club Lt. Governor and as a member of the Key Club District Board, Mondo attended several leadership training conferences geared towards supporting sponsored youth to excel in leadership positions. During this time, Mondo was able to cultivate a sense of professionalism that he still uses today. At an early age, Mondo became accustomed to running meetings, adhering to common business procedures and how to behave in a professional setting. As Mondo recounts, “These trainings are invaluable because they set the stage for young people to become leaders.”
During his Key Club years, Mondo became aware that the Foundation invests in its sponsored youth in a very special way. The Foundation underwrites all of the housing, food and travel costs for the youth in attendance at the training and leadership conferences and that had such a significant impact on Mondo. What that means is that every youth, regardless of their ability to pay for experiences like the training conferences, can pursue a leadership role within any of our Service Leadership Programs and not worry about how or if they can afford it. For some youth, these experiences serve as a foundation to grow from during their college and professional lives. And for others, these experiences are rare and priceless; available only as a result of the generous support of the Foundation and its donors.
For Mondo, his relationship with the Foundation didn’t stop there. During his senior year, Mondo applied for and won the prestigious Loretta Barksdale- McElwain Scholarship award. The McElwain Scholarship paid for almost three year’s worth of college tuition, which had a huge impact on Mondo’s collegiate career. The scholarship meant that Mondo was able to work less and focus more on his studies and the thing he really loved, community service.
After Key Club, Mondo became a member of the Circle K Club at his alma mater, California State University at Long Beach. At first, Mondo wasn’t sure he wanted to continue on and become a member of Circle K. Having had such a rich and fulfilling Key Club experience, Mondo didn’t think Circle K had anything new to offer. But his love for service was powerful enough that he decided to attend a meeting and check it out. The club was small and in need of revitalization. Where others may have seen reasons not to get involved, Mondo saw the opposite. The club leadership was committed to rebuilding the club and Mondo knew he had a part to play. After a slow start, the club engaged in a Christmas-time service project at their local hospital. Mondo and others spent the day with one or two “special friends” – children with either long-term or acute illnesses who would be spending their holidays in the hospital – playing games, doing crafts, and simply having fun. Once again, Mondo was instantly hooked, and as he fondly recalls, “That day was magical, and I am so grateful to Kiwanis because I got to be a part of it. You can’t have experiences like that anywhere else.”
Mondo wasted no time in assuming a leadership position within Circle K. During his senior year, he served as Circle K District Governor, followed by Club President, and then as a Circle K International Trustee. During his final year as a graduate student, Mondo served on the Circle K International Board which proved to be a turning point in his commitment to serve the children of the world; a commitment that continues to be a driving force in his life.
After graduating from college with his masters, Mondo wasn’t able to find a Kiwanis club to join that fit his schedule. After trying to force a fit with various established clubs, Mondo decided to utilize his leadership training and start a new club. Working off a successful model implemented by a Circle K friend in Washington, D.C., Mondo chartered the California Young Professionals Club in Los Angeles. The main focus of the club is, of course, service. The club caters to young professionals with busy schedules who may not be able to make a regular breakfast or lunch meeting, but who are committed to impacting their community through service. The club is a success. With more than 40 members and several service projects on their resume, the club is truly making a difference.
Mondo says looking back, he never would have been able to see the ways in which Kiwanis and the Foundation would change his life. Or, perhaps more accurately, the ways in which they would empower him to change his own life. Mondo credits his years in Key Club and Circle K, those legendary training conferences, and his hundreds of hours of service, with helping him to become the man and leader he is today. As a leader, Mondo encourages everyone to get excited and get involved. As Mondo says, “Kiwanis is good for everyone. Kiwanis gives back to you. Whatever you do, just get involved. You’ll be happy you did.”