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Why Urban Alliance’s Monique Rizer wants your jobs
By Emily Van Zandt
Published: Sept. 20, 2018
As one of the only members of her family to go to college, Monique Rizer knows how hard the transition into secondary education and the workforce can be for high school students. In her new role as executive director of the D.C. chapter of Urban Alliance, Rizer is using her own experience to inform how she leads a program that helps high school seniors get placed in local internships and provides them with job training. Before landing with the alliance in July, Rizer got her start in nonprofits by launching a program helping military spouses with career development.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? I had thought about being an archaeologist. I have read a lot of books, fiction books about archaeology. I’ve always loved to write and tell stories, so being a writer was always something of interest.
Where did you grow up? I grew up along the West Coast. I am originally from San Diego.I come from a long line of Hispanic-Americans and we all sort of stayed in San Diego. My mom was a little bit of a hippie. She was one of the only Garcias who left. And that’s how I ended up spending most of my formative years south of Seattle.
On college: I went to two different community colleges before I graduated from Gonzaga University. I was one of six kids, and four of my five siblings didn’t finish high school. I did not know the journey through college, but because I had an opportunity to go to community college in high school, it opened my eyes.
What was your motivation to continue your education? My original motivation, honestly, was just that I wanted more for my life. My family didn’t have a lot of money and there were just a lot of family challenges, and I want something different. And then, I actually got pregnant when I was 20. That was a big game-changer for me. I just really wanted to set an example for my son and give him a better life as well.
What drew you to Urban Alliance? In my previous role leading a coalition of organizations like Urban Alliance, I got to know a lot of different organizations that were working on youth employment and education and post-secondaries. And Urban Alliance just stood out to me as an incredible organization. As I just decided what to do next, I really wanted to do direct service work and see the impact every day of the policies and research I had been talking about and working on in my previous role.
Biggest current challenge for Urban Alliance: The biggest challenge, honestly, is really a challenge I would put to a lot of your readers: We need jobs for our students. We have 150 students every year who want to work and get that exposure, and we’re really only limited by the number of job partners that we have.
Best thing about the job: Easily, it’s the students. That is the thing that gets you up in the morning. I mean, they are just amazing. I see every young person we’ve ever encountered who was taking an opportunity for themselves — they truly inspire me. A lot of them are contributing financially to their families because we pay them competitive wages during this time. And they want to come back and give back to their communities.
What’s kept you in D.C.? I love that people here are here for a purpose. They want to make a difference. I love the art.I love the food. As hokey as it sounds, sometimes, D.C. to me represents the greatest aspirations of our country. As someone who has had a journey through, I’ll say disadvantage, to what I have now, D.C. represents what’s possible for people. We’re not perfect, but I love that this city represents what we’re trying to become.
Weekend plans: We have three children, my fiancé and I. One of them is in college, but the two that are at home are 8 and 14, so we spend a lot of time on soccer fields and baseball fields. I try to take in art in the city whenever I can. I’ve been completely infatuated with the “Burning Man” exhibit at the Renwick Gallery.
Something you learned from your first job at a pizza place that you’re still using today? I think honestly, networking. I got to know so many people at that job because people from my high school would come in after games. I realize now I just was good with people and maybe that’s why they put me at the front. And I got a couple of dates to the prom out of it.
Favorite book: There’s a book that I love to share, because nobody knows about it and it is so incredible. It’s called “Everything Will Be All Right” by a man named Douglas Wallace. He was basically J.D. Vance, but in the ’60s in Nashville. It puts a different face on coming out of poverty, which I think is really important.
Monique Rizer; D.C. executive director, Urban Alliance
Education: Bachelor’s in journalism, Gonzaga University; master’s in information management, Syracuse University
Family: Fiancé Scott; children Frankie, Asher and Gabriel
First job: Working as a cashier in a pizza place