Carl Robinette

Fri June 26, 2015 10:48am

Longtime Chula Vista resident Arnulfo Manriquez had never heard of non-profit work before someone from Community Housing Works spoke at his college campus about how to earn a living building housing for low-income families.
As an urban planning major, Manriquez had always had an interest in architecture, planning and serving his community.
“As I heard all of those pieces together, I thought that’s what I want to do. It was being in the right place at the right time,” Manriquez said.
Within a couple of weeks of hearing the speaker, Manriquez landed an unpaid internship with Community Housing Works.
He has since been in the non-profit industry for 22 years and been president and chief executive officer of the MAAC Project since 2012. MAAC’s goal is to help low income families become stable and successful through advocacy and programs around education, health, housing and career pathways.
The ultimate goal is to help MAAC participants become self-sufficient by earning a stable income, but to be successful in your work, you also need education, health and housing, Manriquez said.
Manriquez laughed, saying he is underpaid by industry standards as the leader of an organization of MAAC’s size, but the real payoff for him is seeing the impact of his work in the community.
“There’s a reason why I work with non-profits and it’s because of that impact,” Manriquez said. “It’s good to be paid. It’s good to have the challenge and it’s good to have the opportunities that come with work, but the work we do truly is rewarding.”
Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Manriquez immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1981 when he was 10 years old. His father grew and sold flowers while his mother owned and operated a flower shop for 20 years, Antonieta’s Designs in Chula Vista.
Manriquez watched how hard his parents worked to build a family business with very few resources while he and his four siblings focused on their education.
“Moving to the United States was a big culture shock for me when I was 10 years old,” Manriquez said. “I understand what people go through. I understand the feeling of coming to a new country and going through school not fully understanding the language. I also understand the feeling of not having opportunities or not knowing about opportunities and how you access that information.”
MAAC’s participants are 70 percent Latino, and he said his personal understanding helps him serve his mission and create a culture of understanding within the organization around the needs of immigrants and minorities.
“It’s sometimes easy to say that the participants just want to come and take advantage of charity,” Manriquez said. “But my experience has been that most people who come to MAAC don’t even feel comfortable accepting assistance because they feel like they’re taking something for free. Most people want to earn. They want to figure out ways to do it on their own.”
Despite the challenges they faced, Manriquez’s parents were able to build successful businesses and put Arnulfo and his four siblings through college. But doing that in the U.S. is harder today than it was 35 years ago.
As a divorced father of two teenage girls and one boy, Manriquez also understands the challenges that parents face today, and he knows the importance of a stable home.
MAAC helps its participants create that kind of stability through a broad, sweeping set of programs, including the construction and management of low income housing, providing career training and opportunities, and delivering education through the MAAC Community Charter High School and Head Start preschool.
“Every little bit of work we do has an impact,” said Manriquez. “What drives me is — I have seen the changes in people and the positive results that a safe and stable environment can bring to a family.”