Yes, You Can! 7 Strategies to Empower, Evolve, and Transform Your Life: Part 3

Yes You Can! Part 3-Community Engagement-Building Relationships

September 29, 2016   |     West Now Home

By Linda Garza Kalaf

The content herein is that of the author and does not reflect the position or opinion of Western International University (West). This article is shared with the West community through our collaboration with Prospanica (previously known as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs), Phoenix Chapter.

Part 3 - Community Engagement:
Opening Doors to Improving Relationships

Highlight: This article includes an activity in which you will create Your Personal Board of Directors. This article explores the importance of both networking and building relationships—and offers ideas for networking opportunities and organizations to join. You will begin to identify your support team and potential ideas for community engagement. The people around you matter!

As a young girl, I have vivid memories of my dad’s involvement in the community as a way of giving back and contributing to society where he worked and lived. Dad had a servant’s heart. His teachings about the importance of community left a memorable impression, which laid a tremendous foundation in understanding the importance of community engagement. Dad was my role model, and I witnessed his passion for civil rights at an early age. I remember asking him, “Why are you attending a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) event?” He replied, “It’s important to support all those who fight for civil rights and social change, to ensure equality of rights for all men and women.”

I soon realized that the doors to equality and many opportunities were beginning to open. This began with my career at America West Airlines (AWA). As the newly appointed manager of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) and Diversity, I was responsible for developing affirmative action plans and ensuring EEO compliance.

In collaboration with AWA’s management, I created and implemented community outreach programs in order to attract and recruit a diverse workforce. The implementation wasn’t just about having a plan in place, it meant having to put the plans into action. This required a collaboration between multiple departments within AWA’s corporate offices, various locations throughout the airline system, and diverse organizations throughout the United States. America West excelled with respect to Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. This was due to the variety of community outreach programs, EEO training and a myriad of compliance initiatives. All programs were carefully planned and measured to ensure success, and most importantly, the support of the senior management team was instrumental.  

In 1992, when Arizona passed the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, there was a grand celebration at the America West Arena. America West flew Rosa Parks to the event. It was an honor to help coordinate her flight with our government relations department--and we ensured she was flying in the front of the plane, first class!

Upon moving from the airlines to the ground transportation bus industry, I became Director of Human Resources, Community Engagement and Passenger Relations at Veolia Transportation. Veolia was committed to diversity and inclusion and created community engagement initiatives which valued partnerships. During my employment in the ground transportation bus industry, the Rosa Parks Montgomery, Alabama incident on December 1, 1955 took on a whole new meaning for me. I was destined to spread the word about diversity and inclusion within Veolia Transportation and was appointed to lead the corporation’s local and national diversity initiatives.

My general manager at Veolia was Jack Pisano, who was a board member of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. One-day Jack suggested, “You might want to attend the Tempe Chamber’s Women in Business Council meetings. They are a great group of women, and you might be interested in their community outreach.” That’s all it took--I attended one meeting and was committed to the Women in Business Council (WIB). The women focused on professional development for the citizens of Tempe who were interested in their personal and professional growth through several initiatives including their Leadership Speaker Series and their Annual Conference.

As Jack allowed me the autonomy to become involved in the community, Veolia’s partnership with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce blossomed into supporting many of their events, including serving as Chair of WIB in 2011. Later that year, I created a Mentoring Program for the WIB. The protégés were paired with mentors who are successful business leaders in the community. The mentors were willing to share their knowledge and empower their protégés to reach their full potential. After three years of participation, I am proud to say that the program continues today!

Veolia supported a variety of organizations, including but not limited to:

  • City of Tempe diversity initiatives;
  • Diversity Leadership Alliance (DLA), which hosts monthly workshops and an annual conference on diversity and inclusion;
  • Tempe Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Council, which provides a variety of professional development workshops and annual conference;
  • Women in Transportation Seminars (WTS), which provides a variety of professional development seminars and annual conference.

Veolia was proud to be the recipient of several awards for their community engagement and partnerships formed with each respective organization.

This has been a wonderful journey, a career that spanned over 30 years. As a civil rights advocate and servant leader, this was a rewarding and validating experience. What’s interesting is that my graduate degree thesis was From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity within a Major Airline, and the roots connecting with Rosa Parks and the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus incident became a living and breathing part of my journey.

During one of my trips back to Detroit, Michigan, I visited the Henry Ford Museum where they featured the bus that Rosa Parks rode—in which she refused to give up her seat in 1955. That was a tremendous experience to be on the bus where Rosa Parks once sat, creating the impetus to the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so many years ago. Together, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. opened doors to civil rights and social change.

“I believe we are here on the planet earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

                                                                            --Rosa Parks


ActivityYour Personal Board of Directors

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Look for Part 4 — Passion: Finding Your Authentic Self — to post soon. Watch our West Facebook page, or visit for our latest posts.

Read more of our 7-part series:


Part 1

Part 2

Linda Garza Kalaf, MAOM, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, GPHR, is a Human Resources professional with over 30-years of experience in the airline and ground transportation industries and is a Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional and Global Professional in Human Resources. She has a steadfast belief in supporting the community and has served on local, state and national boards related to diversity & inclusion, education, leadership and mentoring, including the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) (now known as Prospanica). She was one of the NSHMBA Phoenix Chapter’s founding members and chapter president, and went on to serve as the national vice chair. She was inducted into the NSHMBA Executive Circle in 1998 for continuous service on the local and national levels. Her mission is to help others with their personal and professional development in order to reach their full potential.

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