One on One: Ivette Olmeda, MassDevelopment Transformative Development Initiative fellow for Worcester

October 7, 2018 : Telegram & Gazette

After a successful initial run in 10 Massachusetts communities, state agency MassDevelopment in May 2018 added four new Transformative Development Initiative districts, including Main South in Worcester. With 30 years under her belt as a Worcester resident and a strong background in finance, networking and empowerment of women and minorities, Ivette Olmeda was hired as Worcester’s Transformative Development Initiative fellow, a position created by MassDevelopment for each of the new districts. The job, Ms. Olmeda said, utilizes all of her skills and talents while demanding that she develop more. Having emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1985, she has a passion for learning that makes such demands not only welcome but mandatory. After working her way up from her first position as a young mother in a new country as a part-time teller at a local bank, Ms. Olmeda most recently worked at the Center for Women & Enterprise helping teach women economic self-sufficiency skills but left in 2014 to pursue an accelerated dual degree program at Clark University, which abuts her current zone of employment, earning an MBA and an master’s degree in community planning and development.

What exactly does your new position entail and how will you implement some of your ideas?

One thing that is so important to understand is that this position was created so cities would have someone working to enhance the district’s existing expertise and leadership. So it’s not like I come in with all these new ideas to implement — Main South already has great leaders and they are people that I respect and admire. I look at them as role models. I am here to work to accelerate their ideas and vision, to make those ideas come to life.

So would you say your main job is that of collaborator?

Yes! The core team I am working with consists of people from Clark University, the Main South Community Development Center and the YMCA. I am in the process of learning about their dreams and ideas and what I can do to assist them.

What is your connection to Main South? Do you live in the same area of your work?

I am not sure if when MassDevelopment created these fellowships they intended to hire someone from the inside or the outside, but in a way they got both with me. I don’t live in this area of the city specifically, but I have lived in Worcester for more than 30 years. I drive through here, I patronize these businesses, I go to the gym here. I am looking forward to trying out the hair salons and restaurants here and learning even more of what Main South has to offer.

What have your first few months on the job been like?

I am still in the stage where I am getting adjusted, having coffee with people so I can gather ideas and learn. When I was first starting my career at the bank, I went to every single training and workshop that was offered — I was just so eager to soak in any information I could get my hands on. I feel like that now, trying to gain knowledge about the small business community, the residents, the leadership, everything and everyone.

Tell me about the experience of coming to a new country as a young woman and how you got your feet on the ground.

I moved here the same year I had my first child, and seven months after that I was pregnant again. I spent the first few years as a mother home with my children and during that time my goal was to learn the culture and the language. The very first thing I did was to find the ESL center and start to learn English. It takes time to figure out the culture and so those early years were spent learning. One of the most important things that happened during that time was that my ESL teacher held a special dinner where we each brought a dish from our own culture, and it was the first time I felt strongly connected to people in this country. I have forgotten a lot of people and things at my age, but I never forgot that teacher or that experience.

How do you spend your time when you are not at work?

I am very active — I hike and run. I have three grandchildren and I love to spend time with them on the weekends doing fun things. I have been attending the same church for 30 years and they are like a family to me. And one of my most important activities is something very near to my heart. I am the co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Escala! Achieving Together, which is a consulting team that works with women to help them to experience greater personal growth.