The tiny girl sat beaming from ear to ear on the curb on Montana Street. She waved at the Pikachu character in the Sun Bowl Parade float and shouted, “Hi, Pikachu!”
It’s moments like this that United Way CEO Deborah Zuloaga, who has a long association with the Sun Bowl, values the most.
“For many of the families lining the street, this is their live entertainment for the year,” Zuloaga said. “They don’t have the means to participate in many things. When I see these children every Thanksgiving morning, it brings me to tears.”
The Sun Bowl Parade is among a long list of accomplishments for Zuloaga, which include the Amigo Airshow, Executive Forum, and UTEP and hospital advisory boards. She served the White House under President Reagan and was past executive director of the Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest.
Perhaps that’s not surprising from a woman who grew up in a proud, civic-minded family who believed in serving community and country.
Her mother, Madge, was the first Mexican-American to serve on the board at Thomason Hospital, now University Medical Center of El Paso.
Most, however, credit her work at the United Way as game-changing for El Paso.
“She has provided great strategic leadership throughout the nonprofit sector, coming up with great, innovative programs,” said Joyce Wilson, CEO of Borderplex Workforce Solutions and former city manager.
Zuloaga is reluctant to talk about herself, but eager to promote the work of the United Way, which she said focuses on education, health services, financial stability and now basic needs, including emergency food and shelter for families and disaster response.
She also works to build the next generation of civic engagement through the RISE program for 21 to 30 year olds and Young Leaders Society for 30 to 40 year olds.
“We have a great need for that here,” Wilson said. “These programs teach young people leadership skills like how to fundraise and budget. She also is cultivating leadership for the non-profit sector.”
Zuloaga said she has seen first-hand how volunteers impact the community.
“It’s the ripple effect, the pebble in the pond. All of our lives are connected. That’s why I believe so much in what I do. I see the passion young people have in wanting to give back to their community. We are building the next generation.”