Latino FEMA exec believes in mentoring youth

October 14, 2011 4:57:53 PM PDT
As Hispanic Heritage Month wraps up, ABC7 focuses on Andrew Velasquez III who serves as administrator for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Velasquez believes he has a huge responsibility to make sure he has a strong, talented team of committed employees and that he has provided them with a clear vision of FEMA's role.

A Chicago native, Velasquez is the highest ranking Hispanic to serve FEMA. As Region 5 administrator, he was appointed to the position in 2010 following extensive experience in emergency management.

"Never in a million years would I have imagined being appointed by the president of the United States to serve in the position. But, nonetheless, I am thankful for his confidence in me," said Velasquez.

The 43-year-old coordinates preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation activities for six states. This year he has had to deal with major flooding and ice storms.

"We deal with a variety of threats, whether they are natural disasters or that looming threat of terrorism. We have to have plans in place to ensure that we are ready and prepared to support jurisdiction in their need of time," he told ABC7.

Velasquez's public servant career spans 15 years and includes being director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and Homeland Security advisor to the governor. He has overseen the state's response to severe storms, ice storms, record Midwest flooding in 2008 and the tragic campus shooting at Northern Illinois University .

"It was a really response that involved dealing with a recovery of the mind or a recovery of the soul because so many individuals were was an entire community," Velasquez said.

The dedicated public servant also served as the head of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications. The Humboldt Park native of Puerto Rican and Mexican decent is a strong believer in mentoring youth. He says his parents were his mentors.

"I was not fortunate to have professional role models growing up in my neighborhood, Latinos in executive professionals levels that I could look up to," he said.

He does find personal time to mentor, to spend with his family and friends and to recharge. Balance is important to him.

"I have not allowed adversity to impact my life. People often times ask me the question, have you ever been discriminated against? And I'll say I think they were occasions where I was treated unfairly. But that hasn't been the focus of my life. The focus of my life has been on hard work, commitment and really thriving off the strong values that are a part of my community, the Hispanic community," said Velasquez.

Velasquez says he has learned a great deal from position he has held. He says he loves Chicago and wants to continue in the role of public servant.

Velasquez says his Hispanic roots and parents have made him the man he is today. He encourages more to get involved in mentorship and to be available to young people.

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