Volunteer’s roots serve as an inspiration

Jose De La Cruz calls on his own experiences to open doors for Latinos and Hispanics. Courtesy of Jose De La Cruz

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Jose De La Cruz calls on his own experiences to open doors for Latinos and Hispanics. Courtesy of Jose De La Cruz

Jose De La Cruz grew up in a small Indiana town where his father, a native of Puerto Rico, was the second Latino the locals had ever seen. After about eight years working in steel mills, his dad brought his mom and two sisters to join him, and De La Cruz was born not long after. He learned Spanish at home, picking up English from classrooms and playgrounds.

“But the part of town I lived in was the wrong side of the tracks, and there wasn’t a lot of expectation that we’d amount to much,” De La Cruz said. “Getting an education was instilled in me early by my mom, and I hung around adults who reinforced the need to go to school.”

It wasn’t easy: His night school studies were interrupted by his mother’s illness; he got married and started a family. After earning a bachelor’s in 1984, he started law school part-time and earned a degree in 1990. His career took him to Nashville and, in 1996, to Alpharetta, where he has been the HR director for Travelers Insurance for 12 years. But the hardships haven’t been forgotten.

“I believe in giving back to others to help them move forward,” he said. “I learned that from my mother. Despite her working two or three jobs, she always found time to give back. I remember going with her to do things at church and in the community.”

The Latin American Association was one of the first groups De La Cruz reached out to when he arrived in the metro area.

“I left a message for the executive director, and in two weeks, she had me serving on the board, which I did for three terms,” he said. “I developed strong bonds with the head person for employment, and he got me involved with providing information to constituents. And when he went to work for the Boys and Girls Clubs, we put together a Latin American culture workshop for the five biggest centers.”

De La Cruz has also run workshops around employment law for the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and taught at Georgia State and Gwinnett Technical College. Through Travelers, he has rallied employees to support the Latin American Association’s members by offering programs around job hunting and resume writing. Three years ago, he created a series of half-day seminars around workforce readiness.

“We listen to their stories and provide guidance around how to leverage their backgrounds to land that first job or move to a better position,” he said. “We teach them to write accomplishment statements rather than just statements and facts.”

Every quarter, De La Cruz leads 90 minutes of “cultural conversation” to help LAA members understand the difference between Latino and American norms.

“We have to be able to adapt our approach to the cultural nuances here,” he said. “For instance, we’re taught to be humble, not make eye contact and defer to older people in authority.”

His efforts have had many positive results, he said, including the hiring of workshop participants.

“Most of all,” he said, “it’s opening doors for Hispanics and Latinos.”


Who’s doing good? Each week, we highlight a deserving individual, charity or event such as a fun-run, volunteer project and other community gathering that benefits a good cause. To suggest a story, please email hm_cauley@yahoo.com or call 770-744-3042.