Diana Villarreal, first of all congratulations on your new position as Vice President! Can you tell us something about your vision for Mentor Foundation USA?
Acknowledging our current reality, I would love to take our programs virtual to reach a wider audience. I believe that doing so, will allow us to expand our reach and our programs could be viewed by school campuses, public and private, anytime and from anywhere. Creating a strategic plan for growth, developing partnerships with the government sector, corporations and other nonprofit organizations will be key to our success. I also believe that if we do this right, our reach will extend outside of our borders and into countries that don’t yet have a Mentor Foundation today.
Our Founder of Mentor, Queen Silvia of Sweden stresses the importance of looking after our children and keeping them safe during these challenging times. I echo her sentiments. I think especially now, after the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in mental health issues, it is really needed.
An early entrepreneur
Diana Villarreal is the Principal and Chief Executive Officer at ACREAUS, a company that provides leadership and technologies that solve complex business objectives. The company is a trusted strategic partner, working with CEOs, NPOs, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to establish innovative growth strategies to reach business goals. She is leading cross-disciplined teams, creating business opportunities that deliver communication campaigns, and accomplishing strategic business goals. She has always been driven by the will to help other people in different ways, and she realized as a young girl that she had entrepreneurial skills.
I grew up with amazing parents and had an amazing childhood. When there is love, what else do you need? That's why I think our work at Mentor is so important.- Diana Villarreal
When asked about her background and how she got to where she is today in her career, she remembers finding her entrepreneurial passion early in life:
I was a passionate young girl and I started as an entrepreneur early. I made my first five dollars when I was about eight years old. I had a garage sale and sold my toys because I wanted to buy something for myself, and my parents weren’t going to spoil me, so I had to figure it out. And I did, I sold my toys and bought what my eight-year-old self needed for five dollars.
My parents have so much compassion for others, and I followed their example. Growing up within the church— my dad is a pastor— I saw the caring way my parents’ treated others. That’s how I grew up: you never close the door if someone needs help. Another way I found to bring joy to people’s lives is through music: I learned to play the piano early, and I’m a passionate musician.
Diana, if you had to describe yourself in three words, what would those be?
I would say that I’m passionate, loyal, and transparent.
I’m a passionate person because I’m motivated by objectives I sincerely care about. It’s not about the money, it’s about the cause. I also chose the word loyal because I follow through with all my commitments. I finish what I start. Finally, transparent because I believe that clarity is kindness. It’s both nice and important to be transparent and clear in all situations.
Can you tell us a little about how and why you moved on to start your own business, ACREAUS?
I started my company because I felt I could bring more value and services. I have always been an entrepreneur and consistent volunteering led to people hiring me for assistance within their organizations. This eventually evolved to me having my own consulting company.
I had one client tell me: you can tell me in two minutes what it takes my board two hours to say. I’m able to effectively tell somebody’s story, their brand story, which can be an idea or a project.
Diana says that having empathy and the ability to connect to people has been a key factor in her success. She also cites that her more “difficult” clients facilitated her success since they have set the bar really high, aiming for the best by expecting the best; allowing her to rise to the task. Many of those clients became close friends; showcasing how the ability to connect to people has been important.
A passion for helping others
Diana’s commitment to advocacy and serving those less fortunate with love has continued to be a guiding principle in her life. In 2008, at the beginning of the economic downturn, Diana co-founded Career-Confidence (formally Beltway Job Search Partners), a non-profit organization providing free educational workshops to business executives experiencing career transitions. It now has a membership base of over 2,200 people and is the second largest organization of its kind in the Washington D.C. region.
During 2008 everything crashed. I lost my business at the time, and my personal life crumbled. I felt that I had to do something to help others that were also heavily impacted. My faith carried me through my ordeal, and gave me the fortitude to start Career Confidence. Now it’s one of the largest organizations for job-seekers in D.C.
In 2014, Diana founded Project Hope International (PHI), a nonprofit organization that serves children and families living in underserved and vulnerable communities. The organization implements programs that inspire and create positive change through education, sports, music, art, and mentoring. PHI believes that programs like these provide a pathway to reconnecting at-risk youth who would otherwise get off track. Project Hope International has partnered with over 22 nonprofits spanning over 3 continents.
Diana, learning about your nonprofit work and your passion about helping others is so inspiring. Can you tell us if you had a Mentor growing up, or if there was a person that was particularly important to you?
There are so many of them! I think it takes a village, and I have definitely had a village of strong women.
How important do you think it is for young people to have a Mentor?
So important! I grew up with parents who had a solid foundation, who loved us and shared their Faith in God with me and my siblings. That’s why I think our work at Mentor is so important and that we are there to support our youth and let them know that they are important to us and loved too. It’s very valuable for our youth to have a Mentor.
A great need for initiatives post Covid
Diana was personally affected by the pandemic in several ways. Sadly, her brother passed away and she says she can relate to feeling disconnected, and not being able to meet with friends as usual. She says she learned that life isn’t guaranteed and that we need to make the best of every day. This also made her appreciate the people close to her more. One of her big takeaways from the pandemic is that we need to “meet people where they are”, to be aware that the person you meet might be going through something that you are not aware of, and that you need to meet that person with kindness.
In what way do you think that Mentor USA can support young people post Covid?
Now more than ever Mentor Foundation USA programs are so important. The rise in mental health issues and anxiety among young people is real. It’s important that we get our programs out there to support our youth.
Thank you so much, Diana, for sharing your story, experiences and letting us know a bit more about your vision for Mentor Foundation USA. We are grateful for the support that you provide to the Mentor Foundation! As a final question, is there a new skill that you would like to learn?
I would like to speak another language fluently. I don’t know what language yet, but I would like to learn one!