If I Can Do It, So Can You!

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Name: Richard Dario Zavaleta Casillas
Profession/Industry: Banking
Current U.S. Position and Company Name:
Microfinance Coordinator, Economic Opportunity, a program of Jannus, Inc.
Country of Origin: Peru
Education: B.S. in Business Administration, Universidad Catolica Santa Maria, Peru; Certificate in Administration and Finance Management, Universidad Catolica San Pablo – Peru
First Job in U.S.: Research Intern, Figure 8 Investment Strategies, Boise

I am from a small fishing village called “Puerto de Ilo” on the Pacific Coast of Southern Peru. I was the first in my family to attend university and with the great sacrifice of my parents I was able to receive my degree in Business Administration. After graduating, I returned home to help my family and began working in microfinance banking. I built my career for the next 12 years as a senior credit analyst. In the summer of 2008, I met my wife Laura, who was backpacking through South America, on a blind date. We got married in my hometown and had two wonderful daughters.

In 2016, we decided to change our lives and move to the United States with our young daughters who were 3 and 5 at the time, to give them opportunities for a safe childhood full of opportunity that we couldn’t give them in Peru. We sold or donated everything we owned. I left my small desert town in front of the beach for the Boise hills of Treasure Valley. I still miss the breeze from the sea.

Upon arriving in the U.S. my first task was to improve my English and learn about the culture here. Fortunately, I found the English Language Center (ELC) and despite the center’s focus on refugees, the director Steve Rainey allowed me to learn with them (thanks Steve). In my very first session at ELC my teacher Ruth Merrill encouraged me to write to the Idaho Department of Labor to be part of a special program for immigrants with professions. At the Department of Labor, I met Stacey Shegrud, who helped me gain my first internship at an investment company and funded my English classes at the Intensive English Program at Boise State.

In August of 2016, I met Judi Brawer and Gina Finley who both worked for Global Talent Idaho (GTI). They told me about GTI’s program that helps immigrants and refugees with professional backgrounds re-enter their professional field. I knew immediately it would be a great opportunity for me. They both helped me develop my resume, perfect cover letters and fine-tune my interview skills. GTI’s Advanced Workforce English Classes, managed by Ashley Davis, helped me improve my English quickly and become better prepared to enter the workforce.

For a year, I attended 5 hours of English classes in the morning, ran to my internship, and then went directly to my English classes at CWI. It was a very intense and exhausting time, but worthwhile for the people I met and the change in my perspective. Through all these experiences I had the opportunity to meet refugees and immigrants from all parts of the world, which is something I never would have imagined. I heard stories of their hardships and sacrifices and it made a deep impact on me and I decided that I wanted to help in any way possible. I was a volunteer in the SHINE project (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders) at BSU during that same year, but I wanted to do more.

In 2017, Global Talent Idaho and the Idaho Department of Labor helped me to connect with an internship at Economic Opportunity, a program of Jannus. My internship helped me see how I could use my professional experience to assist refugees and immigrants become self-sufficient through microfinance loans. At the end of 2017, after a two-week interview process, I received a call from Kate Nelson, Director of the Economic Opportunity Program, who offered me the position of Microfinance Coordinator. The Zavaleta family had a small celebration for the victory.

Two years ago, when I decided to take a chance and start my life over, I never imagined I would be able to work as a professional again. I imagined myself busing tables or working in construction. Thanks to the many people and programs mentioned, I now have a job where I can use my professional skills to help the Boise community. I am especially grateful to the teachers and volunteers who touched my life. Now my children have an opportunity to seek their own dreams and I feel that I am doing something worthwhile to make my community a better place. If I can do it, so can you.