Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans who embody the spirit of a modern and robust democracy. Among our 2022 honorees are educators, administrators, students, and everyday Nebraskans. We’ll officially honor the winners on April 13, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.
Civic Nebraska honors Eric Garcia-Mendez with the 2023 Community Builder Award for his work to elevate and advocate for underrepresented voices in his community.
Eric, of Grand Island, returned to his hometown in the fall of 2020. Since then, he has created sturdier connections and cultivated new levels of leadership and civic engagement among the city’s diverse communities. As the director of community connections at Heartland United Way, he helped lead the community’s response to COVID-19, with special emphasis on the area’s most vulnerable and underrepresented residents.
Eric is an organizer, advocate, and change-maker: He was a key driver in the creation of Elevate, a local leadership program for new Americans. He also initiated Young Professionals of Color after recognizing a need for spaces for emerging community leaders. He continues to invite new members to participate and encourages others to step up. Eric also was an organizer of Grand Island’s newly formed Welcoming Initiative, which ensures a welcoming community for new Americans.
“Eric’s fire for justice and human rights is unfathomable,” said nominator Christine Haba of Central Community College. “There is no roadblock too big to keep him from pushing forward.”
Eric was elected to the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education in 2022. Elizabeth Troyer-Miller of Heartland United Way, who also nominated Eric, said: “(Eric) grew up in Grand Island, graduated from Grand Island Public Schools, and has a nephew in school. His parents and grandparents made Grand Island home after arriving in the United States. He understands the challenges of immigrants in our community and seeks to be a voice for them. He went door-to-door throughout his district and had real conversations – he doesn’t just guess when it comes to community concerns. He listens and knows what those concerns really are.”
In addition, Eric serves on the board for College Park at Grand Island, which brings adult and continuing education to the area; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Nebraska.
“As we continue our efforts to fill the gaps we see in our community, I have no doubt that we will see Eric at the front leading us to a tangible and realistic outcome,” Haba said.
Join us as we celebrate Eric and his fellow Strengthening Democracy honorees on Thursday, April 13, at the Livestock Exchange Ballrooms in Omaha. Nobel nominee Desmond Meade is our keynote speaker – save your spot today!