A second generation American of Mexican and Guatemalan ancestry who attended a tough, inner-city high school, Amanda Aguirre was not on a path to becoming a player in health care reform - or even to going to college.

She grew up in Houston. Her father and mother worked hard to provide for Amanda and supported her dream of going to college. They thought she should go to the local junior college. They couldn’t afford more. But Amanda wanted to attend the University of Texas and said she’d pay for it herself, which she did through a scholarship, loans, and waitressing and other jobs. It was a struggle.

The summer before her junior year, she worked as an intern at CDF’s Houston office. There, she began to realize her leadership and organizing abilities and developed an interest and expertise in health care advocacy that would eventually lead to her current work in Washington, D.C. This was 2008, when all CDF offices had intensive campaigns to enroll children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid.

Amanda grew up in one of the Hispanic communities targeted by the campaign. “They were my neighbors, my mother’s friends. I realized that I had an ability, with my background, to do this kind of outreach work.” She enrolled at least 200 children and wrote some of the stories the office used to successfully urge the Texas legislature to expand health care coverage for children.

The next summer, she attended her first Youth Leadership Advocacy Training (YALT) at Haley Farm. “I didn’t quite know how I was going to pay for the next year of college and stressed out on loans.” At the farm, “I had the experience that I was exactly where I was supposed be and doing what I was meant to do.”

During her senior year, Amanda got a fellowship at the White House Office of Public Engagement, where she helped plan events during the passage of health care reform. After becoming the first in her extended family to graduate from college, she worked at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she coordinated educational outreach and events for Latino and youth groups on the Affordable Care Act.  “YALT gave me the framework for community organizing - establishing needs, being respectful.”

Amanda went on to be assistant to the director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP services, before becoming involved in the Obama 2012 campaign. This fall, she’s working on a political campaign in Virginia. 

“Every job I take is something that pushes me and benefits the quality of life for working people like my parents and people who are vulnerable. If it were not for CDF, I probably would have stayed in Houston at some regular job. CDF provided a family-like support system that made me believe I could do whatever I wanted to do – and now I am.”