Looking out the window of Mercedes Bello’s Cincinnati office space, the skyline splashes against the bright blue sky, and the only thing more vibrant than the scene outside is the infectious laughter of Ms. Bello herself. Arms spread wide, she shows off her office and the skyline as if she proudly created both herself. And, in a way, this moment she’s living in right now, with the spacious office and the stunning skyline, is one she did create herself.
Mercedes was born in Venezuela, a country she describes as “beautiful, full of music, art, and lots of beautiful things.” At the time, Venezuela was a very rich country full of new opportunities, thanks to the oil boom. Her father, an engineer, had instilled in her – from a very early age – the importance of hard work, perseverance, and a love of travel. Her mother provided extra stability as a stay at home mom, and Mercedes was able to live a privileged, middle class life as she grew up.
While in college at the University of Venezuela, Mercedes knew she would need something to do after her classes were over for the day, so she took a job. While she was proud of this, her parents were not – they wanted her to focus on school as her main occupation, and her father told her, “Mercedes, that job is for someone who needs it, not you.” This lesson was the first in a line of lessons that Mercedes had taken to heart and drove her to pursue her passion of work that provides better opportunities for those in need. Giving back was a constant part of her upbringing, and it is this spirit of giving back that makes Mercedes such a strong advocate and director for her program – a program she once participated in when she found herself in need after emigrating to the United States.
After living in the US for a few years and working as an intern in Washington DC, she moved back to Venezuela to raise children and bring her knowledge of advocacy and campaign politic with her. When the political climate in Venezuela became untenable for her and her three children, she packed them up and moved to Florida from Caracas. Like many SCSEP participants, Mercedes found herself in need of a resume tune up once her kids were grown and independent on their own. She had always had jobs here and there, but she craved stability, and not the up and down rollercoaster of work opportunities that many immigrants often find themselves on. It was the perfect time for her to find SCSEP, and she hasn’t looked back since!
After enrolling into the program and being trained through the AARP SCSEP in Miami, she worked there for over a year and a half before moving into an HR training program at the University of Miami – a program she knew she needed to go through in order to obtain the project director position she had her eyes on when she first started, the same position she has now! Opportunity came knocking through the job opening up during the pandemic, and she moved from Miami to Cincinnati equipped with two bags, a determination to succeed, and a smile that has become her signature. The rest, as they say, is history.
During this month of honoring Hispanic Heritage, it is important to shine a spotlight on the achievements of our Hispanic friends and neighbors. Mercedes Bello’s story is one of millions of stories about hardworking individuals determined to make a name for themselves in the Land of Opportunity – the United States. “Hispanic heritage is immigration heritage. Immigrants develop the tough skin that gives them the ability to deal with the struggles of learning how to survive,” Mercedes says, thoughtfully. This is why Mercedes’s contributions to the SCSEP program are so important – her enthusiasm, desire to empower others, and ability to connect our participants to their dreams is incredible. She brings an energy to SCSEP that wasn’t there before she came, and that isn’t only the fiery energy of a woman who loves to Salsa dance; it’s the energy of determination to help facilitate success for all of the participants she comes into contact with. “We are the generation of survivors,” she says about the 55 years and over population. “We have seen the world go from wired telephones to smart phones, black and white TV to Netflix. We have the responsibility of recreating life and success for seniors.”
Mercedes refers to Hispanic Heritage Month as a celebration of ethnicity, culture, and diversity that tells the stories of nearly 20% of the population. Mercedes is proud of both her heritage and her country, as she finds such beauty in the mixture of populations here, even in her community in Cincinnati. She says, “being 100% American means having 100% diversity; being brave means grabbing that opportunity in front of you, which is what America is about.”
Hispanic immigrants come to America for freedom from oppressive and untenable situations in their home countries, not just for jobs. Mercedes, and others like her, has a rich and deep love for where she came from. “I came to give – there is no more satisfaction in my life, no prize that I enjoy as much as helping people. Someone’s ethnicity should never, ever be a barrier to their success. We need to continue working on changing what the society perceives,” she says, looking out the picture window and taking in the Cincinnati skyline. She is truly living what many call the American Dream – living in freedom and having the opportunity to provide for herself and her family while showing others that they, too, can do the same, regardless of who they are. Never understate or underestimate the importance of celebrating our Hispanic brothers and sisters everywhere, every day, not only during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Mercedes Bello embodies the vision and mission of both VANTAGE Aging and the SCSEP Program – promoting a positive perspective on aging while advocating for services to enhance the quality of life of those she serves as they age. It is through her jubilant energy and fighting spirit that she gives others the skills and confidence they need to maintain productive and self-sufficient lives as they age. Her story is one we can all learn from – it is an honor and a privilege to work alongside Ms. Bello every day, and with her nurturing advocacy and enduring spirit for serving and improving the lives of all seniors, she enhances not only VANTAGE Aging and SCSEP, but her community and city that lights up her smile: Cincinnati, Ohio.