Celebrating Latino Leaders: John Padilla
"No matter where you go in life, you have to get involved and give back. That’s our personal tax for being on the planet."
Founder of New Paradigms Consulting, LLC, management consulting firm
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
For the past two decades, John Padilla’s career has centered on helping people rise out of poverty by connecting them to jobs. His success has earned him the reputation among government and nonprofit leaders around the state and country as a go-to expert on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to employment services and workforce development.
The Passion to Give Back
Padilla’s workforce development career began with the Hartford Neighborhood Jobs Initiative, which he led after working in the corporate sector in the aerospace and telecommunications industries.
“I was earning good money in the private sector but decided I wanted to follow my passion and do something different. I didn’t know anything about workforce development at the time, other than that economic mobility begins with a job. So, I applied the skills I had learned in the private sector to a nonprofit setting. And it worked.”
Success with the Hartford Neighborhood Jobs Initiative led Padilla to more opportunities with other funders, building a successful consulting practice, and eventually to managing the national portfolio of workforce development investments at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the $3 Billion funder of initiatives that help improve the lives of children and families in poverty.
One of his biggest achievements at Casey came in 2009, when he successfully persuaded Connecticut officials to apply for funding made available by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. His testimony before the state legislature and work building a coalition of agencies eligible for the federal funding resulted in $34 Million coming into the state for residents most in need.
Padilla also helped to ramp up New Haven’s local sites of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides low-income people with free tax preparation by volunteers who have been certified through the IRS. The assistance helps people access significant money due to them through the earned income tax credit and deductions they might otherwise miss out on.
“At the time New Haven’s VITA sites were serving at most 250-300 people per tax season; in our first year we served an additional 500 and eventually grew to serve 3,000 low-income tax filers. VITA brings back millions to the community.”
A Life Lesson
Padilla’s passion for giving back to his community was inspired in part by the lessons he’d learned from a Brooklyn community organizer, Jose “Tuffy” Sanchez.
“Tuffy was well known in Red Hook, where I grew up. Everyone knew Tuffy. He was very much into trying to get kids to stay in school, to be proud of their Puerto Rican-ness, and to make something of themselves while not forgetting those less fortunate.
He was the one who taught me that no matter where you go in life, you have to get involved and give back. That’s our personal tax for being on the planet.”
Early Leadership Training
As a high school freshman, Padilla joined ASPIRA, the renowned Latino youth leadership program founded by Dr. Antonia Pantoja. His junior year, Padilla was elected to be one of two student representatives on ASPIRA’s National board, where he sat next to Hon. José A. Cabranes, the first Puerto Rican federal judge, and Hernan Lafontaine, who later became Hartford’s Supt. of Schools.
“ASPIRA is where I learned leadership skills, both the value of leadership and how you use leadership. Leadership is about how you bring people along, build consensus, and get things done in ways that build community. Leadership is not about personal gain or harming others because they disagree with you. I learned early on that just because you’re driving the bus, that doesn’t give you license to run people over!”
From 1994-2000, Padilla served as a member of the Board of Directors at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. In 2002, he and his wife, Frances, gathered a group of Latino friends to build philanthropy in the local Latino community. A year later, the Progreso Latino Fund was created at The Foundation, ensuring resources would be available to meet the needs and opportunities of Latinos in the region, forever.
“The idea of PLF came from the belief that our community was growing and maturing and a number of individuals were now in the position of being able to give. We all came from similar backgrounds – from working class families that valued education for their children – and we had all done pretty well. We understood that we have to go into our pockets to support our own – no one is going to do that on our behalf. The way you build capital at The Foundation is by being a donor.”
On What is Needed for More Latinos to Be Successful
The best way forward for Latinos, Padilla says, is through education.
“ASPIRA molded that into my DNA.
Young kids need to understand that education is the one and only transformative activity that you control, that you can use to get ahead. There is no other activity that I know of that has that power.
You can be a successful athlete and blow out your knee. You can be a successful artist, and all of the sudden your art isn’t in vogue any more. You can be a musician, and your moment passes. But education is for a lifetime. And a good education provides the tools so you can reeducate yourself. I’ve been fortunate that I have had five careers in my professional life, and that’s because I’ve always been ready for the next opportunity. I had people in my life who taught me many lessons - the most important was that I learned how to learn.”