Every year thousands of students graduate from Denver, Colorado public schools, but few may know they've probably been impacted by Lola Salazar and her husband Rob.
When Lola was growing up in Westwood, one of Denver’s predominantly Latino, working-class neighborhoods, she had no idea that decades later she would be giving back to the same community that helped raise her.
“When I go to the schools and I see the kids, I actually see myself in a lot of their faces,” Salazar said smiling. “I would have loved to have known at that time there were people out there that cared about us, that cared about our education, that cared about us wanting to fulfill our dreams. “
Salazar is the president of the Salazar Family Foundation, a non-profit organization which helps students and other local organizations achieve their educational goals by providing them with books, scholarships, computers and much more. She and her husband founded the organization in 1999, when they reached a point where they felt they were financially stable with their private investment management company, Central Street Capital, Inc.
Salazar and her husband have made it a priority to give back to the organizations that helped them achieve the success they enjoy today. They support groups like Mi Casa Resource Center, The Denver Foundation, Escuela de Guadalupe, and even Lola's elementary school, the Charles M. Schenck Community School.
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"Both my husband and I are proud to say we're DPS (Denver Public Schools) graduates,” said Salazar. "There are a lot of people out there that are doing very special things. They're just not profiled, but they need to be.”
For Salazar, giving to others is second nature. She doesn’t want to only be known as the woman “who signs the checks,” but more as a familiar face in the community who cares about the kids.
“I think it's important for me to be at the schools and see the children because I want them to see me as a person. I want them to see me as someone that cares for them,” Lola said. “My full-time job is the foundation… I read to kids and visit schools and find out where we can make a difference.”
When Lola sees the titles “Lola’s Lit Lab” and “The Salazar Family Library” engraved on school buildings she says it’s heartwarming. She and her husband put their names on the facilities, in large part so that people in the community can see that they came from the same neighborhood.
“We were like them," said Salazar.
To this day, Salazar says she still has to pinch herself because she can’t believe she’s been able to make such an impact on the lives of so many.
"You can do wonderful things in your life, but you have to remember where you came from," said Salazar. "You have to remember that there were people along the way that helped you get to this point.”
What is your guilty Latino pleasure? Oh my gosh, a smothered burrito once a week. People ask all the time, "Can you eat Mexican food every day?" I say, "Yes, I sure can."
What's the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? To dream big and you have to be educated.
What's the best part of coming from a Latino family? The heart, the hugs. It's just knowing that you can just hug anybody, and it's okay. That's what I do. I'm a hugger.
Marissa Armas is an associate producer and multimedia journalist for NBC Latino. A bilingual and bi-cultural journalist, she previously worked as a reporter in El Paso, Texas for NBC affiliate KTSM, as well as MSNBC.