September 27, 2022
Meet one of Houston’s Hispanic Philanthropic Power Couples
Laura Jaramillo, who was born in Houston, is the Executive Director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Houston, a national community development organization focused on equitable real estate development, family financial stability, small business support, and community engagement. She recently retired after many years in the financial industry, where she managed a Community Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility team, which included working with the Foundation. Laura currently serves on the Governing Board of Greater Houston Community Foundation and New Hope Housing Inc. and the advisory boards of the Holocaust Museum Houston and Recipe for Success. Coming from humble beginnings where the opportunity to travel was scarce, she traveled the world by reading and continues her reading and traveling passion today.
Rick Jaramillo grew up in a barrio in Sinton, a small town by Corpus Christi. Today Rick is the Market Executive at Bank of America, responsible for market strategy, business integration, marketing, and foundation investments. Rick also has responsibility for major markets in TX, GA, FL, MA, MI, and D.C. In 2016 Rick helped launch the firms’ Hispanic Business Councils across the enterprise, a networking platform for the Banks’ Hispanic bankers to focus on Hispanic individuals and business owners. Early in his career, Rick participated in a training program that, upon completion, asked him where he would be willing to relocate. He explicitly stated that he would be willing to move anywhere along the coast all the way to Florida except Houston. At that time, the only news he heard about Houston was related to traffic and crime. Although he came to Houston less than enthusiastic, he has come to love this city and would not want to live anywhere else because of the opportunities it can provide for people like him. Very engaged in his community, Rick is currently on the Board of the Houston Symphony and executive board of First United Methodist Church Pearland. Other leadership roles include former chairman of the Center for Houston’s Future and Chairman Emeritus at the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Early in their banking careers, Rick and Laura met at a meeting hosted appropriately at the Federal Reserve Bank in Houston and have been married for over 21 years. Together, they have easily served on over 30 nonprofit Boards in the Houston region. We sat with them to learn more about what shaped their philanthropic drive and the changes they have observed within Houston’s philanthropic landscape.
What has changed in Houston’s philanthropic landscape since you first became involved?
Laura: Houston’s philanthropic landscape has changed with the changing demographics. In philanthropy, we’ve shifted our focus to a broader, more diverse, and underserved community. We see more people of color in the philanthropic world. The oil industry created Houston. The men and women who made Houston were entrepreneurs and very philanthropic. Those families continue to support our community today but so do new families and individuals. Groups are establishing funds for specific groups and causes and looking to make a measurable impact. Philanthropy is in all of us – and Houston embraces it fully. That is what is beautiful about Houston.
Rick: The demographics have changed tremendously since I arrived in Houston. I have found the city to be the land of opportunity. What is great about Houston is that if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get to work, Houston will embrace you. People come here for the opportunity, just like I did. When I served as chairman of the Center for Houston’s Future, one of the main initiatives was to address the gap between Houston’s business and civic leadership and the region’s demographics. The demographics of Houston’s leadership are not where they needed to be but are slowly shifting in the right direction. Houston’s diversity is our strength and part of what makes us a great international and global city to live, work, play, and do business in.
Laura: I’m encouraged with this next generation of Hispanic professionals. It seems they are getting involved earlier and want to see the impact they can make. When I was young in my career, I had to really focus on getting ahead. As a Latina, I was busy trying to prove myself, that I could do just as well or even better than my peers, and that I deserved to be at the table. Today, I think some of that foundation has been set so this generation is at the table and can spend more time giving back to their community. It’s not perfect yet, but we have some incredible Latino leaders in Houston whose shoulders we stand on.
What issue areas or causes are most important to you as a couple?
Laura: I would say our church first, education, and housing next. While neither of my parents were high school graduates, my mother did go back as an adult to get her GED. She was impressive, working all day, caring for our large family, and going to school at night. She was an integral reason for my placing value on education. While my parents could not necessarily advise us on the process, they did stress the importance of education. I was able to tap into other family friends and mentors as well for guidance and support. Housing is also essential because it is more than what we think of as a home, the white picket fence. It is about having a roof over our head to come home to — a safe place to sleep and be with your family.
Rick: I agree with Laura. For my family, housing was just so important. My mother was a maid who cleaned offices and houses. My dad was a laborer on a ranch. As long as my parents had a job at the ranch, we had a place to live. However, my dad had the foresight to say, “this ranch could change ownership,” and the place we were calling home could be taken away as it was provided by the ranch owner. He was determined to own a home. So, my mom went to one of her employers, the Simpson family, to ask for a 5-cent raise because they were working to save $500 for a down payment to purchase a home. Mrs. Simpson, hearing this goal, gave my mom a $500 advance so they could begin the home buying process immediately. That home ownership became the foundation for my family.
Our home was in the barrio, but it was ours. Once we had our home, we didn’t have to worry as much about the future, moving, or wondering where we would attend school. Eliminating this worry was incredible for my siblings and me. Mrs. Simpon’s gift helped shape my motivation to help others. She showed us what little it takes to change a family’s life.Rick Jaramillo
Laura: The person that helped Rick’s family – out of the goodness of her heart – that is how we should all help each other. Lend a hand if you have one to lend. She may not have actually understood the difference she made in their lives, but it changed them forever. That’s impact.
Tell us more about the history between you and Greater Houston Community Foundation.
Laura: I started on the Advisory Board at the same time as Rick. Once I joined the Governing Board, and we started moving to more of a community focus, that really attracted me. I love the direction that the Foundation is seeking as a community leader, so I’ve gotten increasingly more involved. It has been exciting to see our Governing Board’s engagement while keeping our donors at the forefront of every decision.
Rick: Laura brought me to the Greater Houston Community Foundation. She has a way of being influential and is so connected to the community. She knew there would be value mostly for me but also for the organization.
Both of you participate in philanthropy in various aspects of your careers. What inspires this dedication of your time, treasure, talents, and ties to your community?
Rick: Philanthropy is one of the ten priorities I have in my day job, but it is the most visible and the one that does my heart the most good. I work for a corporation that promotes giving back through our matching gift program and volunteerism. So many of my values are matched by Bank of America. It makes it easier because they encourage us to be engaged and involved. They are leading by example. When you marry this up with my family’s humble beginnings and yet my parents philanthropic side, I think that inspires me to do more. My parents could never have been wealthy because no matter how little they had, it seems they gave everything they had away. When you match that with what I do for a living — working with clients and often high-net-worth individuals and business clients and hearing their stories of giving – I understand some of the communities they want to support because I come from that community. I understand the obstacles very well, but I also appreciate the opportunities. I have lived both of them.
Laura: We were raised seeing our parents work hard. To this day, even though they are no longer with us, everything we do is to make them proud. We learned from them the importance of family, faith, and working hard to achieve anything you want. My college education was paid entirely through student loans, and I worked hard to pay those off because I knew the value of my education. When I joined Wells Fargo’s community relations team shortly after Hurricane Katrina, I saw how the Houston community worked together and hard for people outside our community. It was an incredible experience and made Houston stand out nationally. At one point in my banking career, I was a small-business lender helping mostly start-up companies. These were the very types of businesses that opened their doors to those impacted by Katrina. They helped in whatever way they could. That’s powerful.
Who or what do you think instilled this philanthropic drive in you?
Laura: It is part of our heritage. Hispanics are known for working hard, giving back, and we are family oriented. We support each other. We come to each other’s aid. Our parents lived this. They expected this from us, and I am proud of it.
Rick: I agree with Laura. I remember, as a little boy, my mom expressed concern to my dad that we wouldn’t be able to afford the food we needed that month. A friend told my mom about food stamps and welfare, but when my mom spoke to my dad, he said we would not do that. My mom went ahead and applied for the food stamps, but as she tried to use them one day at the grocery store check out, dad stopped her. My dad told her to put the food stamps away and began to put food back on the shelves. He said he would rather get an additional job. The standards they taught me were about self-responsibility, work ethic, and taking care of your family and your home. Another lesson was that you would be prouder of what you earned than what you are given. I remember that, and I carry that with me every day.
How has being Hispanic impacted your philanthropic work?
Laura: I have a real desire to help those who need it the most. I have had to lean on others quite a bit and want to pay that forward. What is important to many organizations we help is our backgrounds. Those organizations have done good work in the community, but as Latinos, we bring a different perspective and knowledge on how they do that work. Many understand they have to serve the greater community. For instance, the Houston Symphony is working in the Fifth Ward at Deluxe Theatre to help youth understand and appreciate music and expose them to a world they may not have otherwise been exposed to. This is of benefit to the Symphony as they prepare to look like the community. People like Rick and me can make a difference in the organizations we serve.
Rick: A part of our job in this philanthropic work is to push the envelope to raise awareness. Some of these organizations are busy doing good work and have their heads down doing what they should be doing. But from the outside, what are the optics regarding the diversity of the staff and the board? When you look at Houston’s growing demographics, people want to see themselves on stage, on the field, in management, in the business, and in leadership. When you look at the demographics of Texas – with the most recent census, Hispanics are expected to be the majority in Texas for the first time. That is an important demographic to observe whether you are diversifying your board, your organization, or marketing a product – that is the growing demographic. Many times Laura and I find ourselves to be the only Hispanics in the room, but we are slowly beginning to see progress – more promotions and diversification.
What would be some advice that you would give to yourself when you were starting your career?
Laura: I think confidence. Being a Hispanic woman from a humble background, I didn’t always feel confident. I leaned on others to help me get there. Another thing is to have a voice – when you are invited to the table, even if it is only because you are Hispanic, you should have a say, you should have a voice. Prove your value. Culturally, I think we tend to sit back and listen, but it is important to be confident in yourself and have a voice.
Rick: A few years ago, I wrote a book for my family to describe the journey that we’ve had. I titled it “From the Barrio, to the Board Room.” The advice I would give myself is that people will offer you help, and we both [Laura and Rick] are where we are because people offered us opportunities. Having the confidence to say yes to the opportunities provided to you is crucial. Sometimes other people see something in you that you do not see in yourself, and we should accept the opportunities offered.
Rick: I was the last in my family to pick cotton, and in fact, before I realized college was possible, I was swinging a sledgehammer working for the railroad company. A friend invited me to register at the community college with him, so I did. My friend and I found courage in each other to change our lives through education. When people offer you help and encouragement, take it!
Laura: When we mentor kids, we do a lot of that and teach them how to navigate corporate America. I believe that you get what you give. I see people who are constantly giving. The more you give, the more you get.