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Banking on KC – Mayra Aguirre

 

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Mayra Aguirre of Hall Family Foundation: Living Her “Calling” Through Philanthropy

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Mayra Aguirre, president of the Hall Family Foundation. As we celebrate women's history months, we're speaking with Kansas City area women who are making their own mark on Kansas City and whose work is leaving Kansas City a better place to live, work and play. Mayra, you are the first female CEO of the Hall Family Foundation. You stepped into that role in 2020 to succeed Bill Hall after he'd served for 38 years. What kind of message does that accomplishment send to other women and girls?

Mayra Aguirre:

Well, Kelly, thank you so much for having me today to celebrate such an important month of women. As you noted, I am, yes, the first female president of the foundation, and I'm really honored to build on a legacy of other women that came before me that really helped shape the foundation that I believe are critical, and that's women such as Elizabeth Hall, one of our founders who really was the impetus for shaping our commitment to children. Adele Hall as well played an active role externally and internally in the foundation, and really helping shape the values of the foundation and how we connect with the community. Again, the foundation is led by an incredible board. Many women on that board, as well as program officers and the team at the Hall Family Foundation, has consistently had strong, amazing women who have really helped execute the vision.

Mayra Aguirre:

So while yes, I am the first female president of the foundation, I'm really caring for a legacy of other women within the organization. So when I think about what does this message send to other women, I can't help but think about my own mother who fought and sacrificed so much for my siblings and me. She really inspired all of us to believe in ourselves and she always told us, "You deserve to be in every room that you stepped in," and she was such a model of strength, especially in moments that weren't easy. On the outside, it looked like everything just came naturally to her and it didn't always, but even in those moments, she reminded us of our blessings and to always be hopeful and not forget who we are.

Mayra Aguirre:

It reminds me of something that my mom used to say to us when we would make mistakes as a kid and I think she still says these things to this day because still continue to make mistakes along the path here, is she said, " [foreign language 00:02:41]," and that translates to you aren't the first and you won't be the last. So when I think of the message that this sends to other women and girls, I take what she has said and I think about this amazing privilege and I use my mom's words, but I phrase it differently of [foreign language 00:03:02], and that's, "I may be the first, but I won't be the last."

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, I love that. I think another really important point that you made there is that she acted like everything was okay. There are a lot of times when women do have doubts or because they do feel like maybe they aren't qualified and no, just dispense with those kinds of thoughts is what your mother was telling you, even as she was struggling with them perhaps herself.

Mayra Aguirre:

Absolutely. She definitely always made sure that you felt the confidence and she had such confidence in us, and that really made you feel like you could accomplish anything.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've said that early in your own career that you recognized the role that philanthropy played in supporting your goals. Tell us about that and how it has shaped your career.

Mayra Aguirre:

Really, Kelly, philanthropy has always been part of my life and this came directly from my parents and really my upbringing. I know I talked a little bit about my mom, but both of my parents are amazing individuals who immigrated to the United States from Mexico some 40 years ago with my three siblings, really to provide a better life for my siblings. I was then born here in the United States and they really wanted us to take hold of the many opportunities that they believed in. I think about my parents' bravery to leave all they knew to embark on a dream and that bravery was met with a lot of struggles. My parents worked manual labor jobs, navigating life in an unfamiliar place with limited education and English language skills. Early on, when we came to this country, we lived in Idaho and we experienced philanthropy firsthand.

Mayra Aguirre:

Our neighbors in the small town that we grew up in Clifton, Idaho were among the first to find ways to provide support, friendship to my family and my parents. They didn't understand, they didn't speak Spanish, but they would still come over and we would learn to become friends with them. To me, that connection and finding ways to listen to other people whose experiences you don't share, that connecting to me is philanthropy. I saw that very early on and again, my parents, having held really what we call now essential worker positions, which trust me, I always knew how essential they were, anywhere from being farmworkers to construction, assembly lines, meatpacking plants, which my mom still works in a meatpacking plant, I saw my parents model philanthropy in their workplaces. They would often talk to their in here complaints or concerns either about work practices or things that they didn't feel others were being treated fairly or with respect.

Mayra Aguirre:

Despite my parents not understanding all the formal processes and routes to go through and they had their limited English proficiency skills, they still took it upon themselves to make sure that they were elevating the voices of others and were often the first to go and speak to managers about concerns that their colleagues were facing. To me, that bravery of thinking of others first to me is another core example of philanthropy. I'm really thankful for my parents having modeled that for me.

Mayra Aguirre:

Then the last example I think of philanthropy really benefiting me at such a young age is I'm a first-generation college student and I member applying for scholarships and receiving scholarships from generous individuals and families that I had never met, but who had the instincts to set up a scholarship for students like myself. They never met me. I never met them, but who provided scholarships so that I could attend college. I think in all those instances, whether it's the neighbors that are helping my family or my parents elevating community voice or the scholarships that are set up for students, those are all examples of philanthropy that have been so central to my upbringing.

Kelly Scanlon:

Thank you for sharing such a broad definition of philanthropy because it really shows that we can all be philanthropists. Isn't always just about giving money. It's about giving time. It's about giving voice to the voiceless and all the other number of ways that you mentioned there. You're deeply committed to working with members of the community and with solving problems. You've done this through the jobs you've had. You've also done it through numerous nonprofit boards that you've served on. Can you give us a few examples of the kind of change that you've been able to lead?

Mayra Aguirre:

That's such a great question and I believe that change is really only possible when you're laser-focused on the people and what's going on in their life circumstances. As I think about the positions that I have held and the benefit, I think of one of the first positions that I had while working here in Kansas City was at the greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund. I'm must say I'm forever thankful to the HDF board and especially its board chair Ramón Murguía, who took a real chance on me coming straight out of law school to teach me about the world of philanthropy, and that organization, its board, taught me about the importance of elevating community voices in all of our work. While on paper I reported to the board, it was instilled in me from day one that I truly reported to the community, those who were looking to the organization to be part of solving solutions that the community was facing.

Mayra Aguirre:

My role at the Hispanic Development Fund was highly focused on working with students on both sides of the state line in high schools to talk about access to college scholarships, and also talk with parents and helping them understand and navigating a really complicated system. A lot of the students and families that we were working with were either first-generation immigrants as well, first-generation college students, and it was such a rewarding job for me on a number of levels because I could relate, I saw myself in talking with the students. Their parents reminded me of my parents as well. So the success of HDF and really the success, I believe, of any organization is how you take the listening and learning from talking with people, infusing it into how you think and evolve an organization.

Mayra Aguirre:

That has just been so central to how I think about change and part of change is any change I've ever been a part of has been attributable to every student or parent or community member that we've spent time listening to.

Kelly Scanlon:

How does your work at the Hall Family Foundation dovetail with that passion that you have for strengthening community, for listening to the visual voices in the community, as you just mentioned?

Mayra Aguirre:

Kelly, I am just so blessed to be at an organization whose values align with my personal values, the ones that I've talked about, and that's really been central to the work of the Hall Family Foundation is we work to try to get closer to community and listen and listen with intention. I think that's just so critically important to how we think about unlocking the strength that already lives in communities. So I don't think we think of our work as strengthening communities because we believe the strength already is in the communities. We think of our work as how can better listen to communities to better inform our work going forward.

Kelly Scanlon:

How do you unleash that strength in many cases, I guess?

Mayra Aguirre:

Absolutely. I think that starts with listening and oftentimes if not all times the community understands the needs that they're facing better than we do, and that means just listening and understanding what they're going through and us as a partner bringing ideas and concepts to the table as well, and working collaboratively together to identify solutions.

Kelly Scanlon:

Much of what you have done, and continue to do for that matter, focuses on children, on youth, on family, on improving neighborhoods. Why is it so important to start there, to focus on those areas?

Mayra Aguirre:

Well, first for the foundation, everything goes back to our founders. So our focus on children, youth and families really honors our commitment to Mr. and Mrs. Elizabeth Hall, who really set our focus for us to ensuring that all people could experience what is possible. They knew how important children, youth, and families are to the future and we also know that children live within families. We can't bifurcate children from their parents and their experiences, and so we have to think about the entire family as a unit in order to think about how we can really create lasting change for children, youth, and families.

Mayra Aguirre:

Our work in thinking about neighborhoods is important because there's chosen homes and neighborhoods that these families think about. When we think about neighborhoods, we don't want to believe that every neighborhood should look like the ones that we live in. We really need to honor that those neighborhoods should be reflective of what those living in those neighborhoods really want and need, which goes to my earlier point about ensuring that we're listening to what neighborhoods want for their community, whether that's around nonprofit organizations or grocery stores or access to healthcare. It really all starts with the neighborhood and what they envision.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've already accomplished so much as a female leader and you and your husband are raising a young family too. What would you say to the next generation of women about leadership and making an impact?

Mayra Aguirre:

Well, you're definitely right. We are raising a young family. Matt and I are in the trenches right now. We have three kids, six, four and 20 months. So it's exhausting and amazing all at the same time. I think as being a mother and also working in this position, I think just speaking for myself and other women that I've talked to is it definitely has its challenges. Some days you feel like you're a better mother, other days you feel like you're a better leader, and they don't always equal out. I think sometimes understanding that we as women have to give each other grace, I think that's just so important in thinking about how we lead as women who are trying to raise kids and also have a career. That's just important for me to center.

Mayra Aguirre:

As I think about for me in thinking about my leadership journey and what I think is making an impact, I think there's three things that come to mind for me. One is really being a lifelong learner and that's asking other women who have come before me, "What worked for you?", sharing similar experiences, asking for help. Not being shy to reach out and say, "How did you get through your experiences and how can you impart your wisdom on me?" I think that's so important and I try to surround myself with women either through mentorship or organizations that I'm part of that allow me to learn from other women in the field or similar fields.

Mayra Aguirre:

Second, I think about having a great team and when you're in a leadership position, you have the great privilege and responsibility to build a team. My approach has been to ensure that you build a team that makes you feel bigger than you are. To me, that means that you trust them and you have a great working relationship and they're incredibly smart and they provide you with support in a number of different ways. I think of the team at the Hall Family Foundation that is amazing and anything that we will ever be able to accomplish is because of the team and we have each other's backs and we believe in one another. I think that's just so important as you think about the impact that you want to make is building the team that you have around you. So I'm really fortunate that we have that at the foundation.

Mayra Aguirre:

So lastly, and I saved this for last, is I have a really big love for hip hop and rap and there's a quote that I use often that hangs on my desk and it's from a rapper, Notorious BIG, and he said, "The key to staying on top of things is to treat everything like it's your first project. Like it's your first day, like back when you were an intern, that's how you treat things. Stay hungry."

Mayra Aguirre:

I quote this often and it resonates so much for me as a leader because to me it's a reminder to keep working hard, right? To treat everything like when you set out in your career and you were bright-eyed and ambitious, and to keep that same level of passion within you. To me, it also speaks to humility, to not believe in your own hype and to remember where you came from and think about your path and your journey, and that leadership is about ensuring that others have the opportunity to lead and have a voice in their own space. To me, that is so important to just always stay ... as he said, to stay hungry.

Kelly Scanlon:

We are just very grateful for people like you in our community. Mayra, thank you so much, and for being our guest today on this episode of Banking on KC.

Mayra Aguirre:

Thank you, Kelly.

Toni Walsh:

This is Toni Walsh, executive vice president of human resources at Country Club Bank. Thank you Mayra Aguirre for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Throughout her successful career, Mayra has never forgotten the people who paved the way for her. Now Mayra is doing for other women and for families what others did for her, opening doors of opportunity for them. In fact, she says her career in philanthropy is her calling and purpose, not just a job. She's committed to paying it forward. At Country Club Bank, we're committed to fostering gender diversity and actively empowering female talent. As we celebrate Women's History Month, consider how you can use your position and influence to elevate others and serve as a resource to them, especially women who may be underserved.

Thank you for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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