Portrait by Devi Pride Photography.
MariaElena De La Garza
Born and raised in Watsonville, I bring over 30 years of nonprofit experience to my work as executive director of the Community Action Board (CAB) of Santa Cruz County. I stand on the values of equity, humility, and service to lead the agency to expand services, strengthen community engagement, become culturally reflective, and experience significant fiscal growth.
As a public speaker on local, statewide and national platforms, I strive to amplify the voices of immigrants, Latinx families, and those impacted by poverty. Grounded in my mother’s dichos (teachings), I advocate for services that and that cultivate a sense of belonging. El dicho, “Cada quien pone su granito de arena” (every person contributes their little grain of sand), has fueled me to build networks and teams that focus on cultural respect and make a difference in the lives of others. Among the organizations where I have held leadership or board roles are Janus of Santa Cruz, Mexican American Community Services Agency, CALCapa Community Action Association, Conflict Resolution Center, Workforce Investment Board, Mercantile Mexicana, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Moreland Notre Dame, and Barrios Unidos.
I hold a dual BA in psychology and Chicano studies from Scripps College in Claremont, California, with extensive leadership development including the Bank of America National Leadership Program, United Way Leadership for Community Transformation, Stanford University Graduate School of Business’s Nonprofit Management Institute, and the Gilroy Leadership Program. In 2018, I was the recipient of the prestigious UC-Santa Cruz Tony Hill Memorial Award for my work in social justice. Most recently, I was honored for making e a difference in our community’s pandemic response in an article, “21 for ‘21” by Lookout Santa Cruz.
It is with deep gratitude that I share my accomplishments and invite you to explore, listen, and learn from the voices that surround you—and decide where your little grain of sand would make the most profound difference.