Elaine Vilchez believes passion and learning can unlock all things.

“Creating pathways out of poverty is about breaking the cycle,” said Elaine, the new Chair of United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Emerging Leaders group. “I believe in the education sector and what we're doing with Linked Learning in terms of getting that passion back in some of the students out there that really don't have the support sometimes at home.”

Elaine has seen first-hand the impact of inspiring and working with students. One of her favorite volunteer opportunities at United Way was working with Linked Learning students on their personal statements for college admissions essays.

“I heard their stories and some of the challenges they're facing,” Elaine explained. “How much drive they have to break that cycle of most of their family not going to college, or having to quit college, and how they aspire to do more.”

Elaine uses this same equation of “inspiration + education” to fuel her personal and professional life. Whether it be leading her company’s donor campaigns with United Way (a staggering 85%+ company donation participation) or her personal physical and mental growth through events like the Spartan Race and learning Salsa dancing.

“I think that's what drives me overall. I think it's the concept of seeing that there's no limits,” she said. “It's setting a goal and pushing yourself to completing that.”

But it takes the right mental state for someone to get there and having that often comes down to simply feeling supported.

“Sometimes, it's talking to somebody and being there,” Elaine said. “I think sometimes people are really shocked because they don't realize how much that means to a lot of people.”

Whether it be a homeless neighbor finally feeling like they have a voice or a young student feeling heard for the first time, giving a voice to the voiceless is why Elaine is so compelled to United Way’s mission.

“One of the things that always stands out and I always quote it is that, ‘United Way really allows people to feel like they're people again,’” said Elaine. “What more message do you need to see there's an obvious effect United Way is creating?”