We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Zaragoza and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jessica, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Interestingly enough, my views on risk have significantly changed over the last 10 years. For the first 30 years of my life I played it safe. I am the oldest child, and when you’re a new parent you really don’t have any clue what you are doing, so you have a tendency to put the eldest child in a protective bubble of sorts. All attempts of safety for siblings following the eldest are out the window though; that bubble pops real quick when parents realize the first born survived. Before you know it the 3rd child is changing his/her own diaper lol. At any rate, risk was never on my radar. I eventually had children of my own and rolled that risk-free behavior onto my own parenting. Mind you my son’s challenged me every step of the way. Give them the any opportunity to jump from the highest jungle gym and they will do it. Any sport that they can break a bone, and they wanted to register for it lol. I really didn’t realize that choosing to play it safe as much as I was, was actually limiting my growth and zest for life, until my husband sat me down for what I call my “intervention”. It was made very clear that living in the very safe and secure bubble I had created for myself so long ago, was not only bringing out the worst in me, but this behavior was recognizable to my family and negatively impacting them. It was at that moment I knew I had to make the decision to not survive life, but thrive. Now don’t get me wrong here, I didn’t just throw all my safe ways of thinking to the wayside, and started jumping out of airplanes….but I definitely started to spread my wings. Risks didn’t have to be grandiose to make an impact on the life of “new” Jessica. To me taking a risk meant having a style that didn’t blend into the norm…blending in was safe. Taking a risk meant registering for a Half Marathon even though I had never really run in my life. I’ve run 3 full marathons since then. Taking a risk means stepping up to make a positive impact in the life of someone who doesn’t look like you, think like you, or act like you. You’d be surprised how many people refuse to lend a helping hand based on the fact their beliefs don’t align. You’d be even more surprised how often people are judged for those they are helping. And with that being said, taking risks have catapulted me into a life that not only provides me the opportunity to live fully, but has been the driving force that helped launch my career in the nonprofit sector.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I want to start by saying I am literally living my life purpose and couldn’t be more grateful; but this way of life didn’t happen overnight. My story starts as a young single mom, with no college degree, who bounced from clerical job to clerical job with the hopes that one day my Administrative position would manifest into a thriving career. I was introduced to the mortgage industry in my early 20’s, and it’s been my bread and butter for roughly 20 years. I loved being part of the home buying process and providing a sense of safety and security in the lives of homebuyers; but it was never enough to completely fill my cup. Any opportunity I had, in the limited spare time I had, was spent volunteering in the community and exploring ways to make a positive impact in the lives of others. Never did I think this after work “hobby” would or even could be a career opportunity. I mean who pays the bills making the world a better place anyways? I remember looking around the room, waiting for my interview to start. I was applying for a position with the Gaylord-Hansen Mortgage Team. What was interesting was I wasn’t really looking for a new job. An old coworker had contacted me and said they were hiring and the team she worked for was AMAZING. At the time, I was perfectly content working at the job I was currently at. And when I say perfectly content, I mean my job offered no possibility of career growth, and I was completely micromanaged; but it paid the bills and that was the sense of security I needed. Remember, risk taking was still not completely on my radar. At any rate, while sitting in this big conference room waiting for Bill Gaylord and Sam Hansen to arrive, I noticed some pictures hanging on the wall of children wearing Converse tennis shoes. During the interview I inquired about the photos hanging on the way. “We have a nonprofit organization called the Gaylord-Hansen Shoe Foundation.” said Bill “Every loan that closes we donate money to it and once a year host a Shoe Event where we provide a pair of Converse tennis shoes, a backpack, funky socks, and day of fun to local Elementary schools here in San Diego.” Wait, what? You mean I’m sitting here applying for a job in the only industry I’ve ever really worked in, and they have a nonprofit organization that makes a difference in the lives of others? Count….me….in. I wore a lot of hats in the beginning of my career with the Gaylord-Hansen Mortgage Team. I was juggling my Administrative duties with my newfound nonprofit duties, and loving every second of it. I began connecting and building relationships with fellow nonprofits. I wanted to learn more about what they did and how we could provide additional support and resources to not only help generate greater mission impact, but build better communities together. Fueled by a passion to give back, coupled with a strong belief in the power of people working together, we were now on a mission to provide direct support and resources to the needs of the community, with a goal to create endless opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential. As time progressed, our community outreach was rapidly covering more ground. I realized our original mission had officially expanded well outside the realm of providing shoes to San Diego school children. It was time to rebrand. This leap was very scary and incredibly exciting for me at the same time. I had ZERO experience running a nonprofit organization, and now I singlehandedly wanted to rebrand it? This…was…a…risk, but risks are ok! I’m happy to report, we officially welcomed the Gaylord-Hansen Community Foundation 501(c)(3) to the community, and not only has it been received with open arms, but is successfully creating positive connections, true happiness, and endless possibilities in the lives of our military & frontline communities, youth & young adults, and community restoration initiatives to just name a few. I’m so incredibly proud of this organization and the impact it is making. My journey that has brought me here has certainly not been an easy one, but all of my life challenges and mysterious standstills had to take place in order to create this glorious opportunity of living my life purpose in the nonprofit sector, and as the Executive Director of GH Community!

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend were visiting the area and I wanted to show her the best…time…ever, I would take her to the North County coastal area, covering Carlsbad, Encinitas, Cardiff and Del Mar. Things have changed a bit in our “new normal” so my agenda would reflect back to “old normal”. We would start by waking up early and grabbing a coffee and pastry at Philz Coffee in Encinitas and head directly to Lego Land in Carlsbad. This extravaganza would pretty much cover an entire day. After we leave the park we’d hit Carlsbad Village to have dinner and some cold beers at Pizza Port, a local favorite spot. After a long day of being on our feet we’d definitely rest the next day, and what better way to do that than under the sun at Swamis Beach in Encinitas. But before we hit the beach we will grab brunch at Swamis Cafe. After we catch some rays, we will swing by Peabody’s Bar & Grill for their delicious and incredibly inexpensive happy hour and enjoy margaritas and fish tacos. The next day it’s off to the Del Mar Race track to catch the horse races. We would park our car at the Coaster Station in Encinitas and take the coaster into Solana Beach. There is a really cool double decker bus that commutes passengers to the the Del Mar fairgrounds for free to you don’t have to pay for parking. After a day of fun we’d spend our winnings on dinner at the Del Mar Fish Market right across the street from the track. Yum! The next 2 days would be spent camping in the great outdoors at the Cardiff Campgrounds. Smores anyone? During our stay at the campgrounds we would grab donuts from the local hotspot, VG’s Donuts. We will take full advantage of camping near the beach and hang ten with surf lessons by Kahuna Bobs Surf School. On our final day we would grab breakfast and freshly roasted coffee from the Pannikin Coffee & Tea before carousing Encinitas’s main street to support local small businesses like Soulscape. Before we head to lunch at Cardiff’s Las Olas Mexican Restaurant, we would stop the Self Realization Fellowship to see their beautiful meditational gardens. To end our super fun North County Coastal excursion, we would hit Moonlight Beach to catch a final sunset!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh boy, I could honestly dedicate my Shoutout to so many people and circumstances that have helped craft who I am today and the success that follows. But I would like to recognize my husband Grant, and my sons Alijah & Syrus. They not only support all of my wonky ideas and lofty goals, but challenge me to think even BIGGER. If I didn’t have them in my corner to encourage me I can honestly say I wouldn’t be who or where I am at today. Wait, can I thank my dogs too? Seriously, Nesta, Luna and Fernando deserve a special Shoutout…they are the happiest of all my happy places. I’m so grateful to have such a loving support system!

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