Spotlight Story

15 November 2023

Felipe Villegas: Building Bridges in his Community through Faith and Service

Category: Spotlight Story

Pastor Felipe Villegas wasn't certain about the trajectory of his life when he left Chihuahua, Mexico, as a young man to settle in Colorado in the mid-1980s. Little did he foresee that he would emerge as a key figure building bridges for other Latinos in his community, all through his devoted work as a faith leader.

As the first member of his immediate family to venture out of Mexico, Felipe deviated from the conventional path. Despite securing admission to an engineering program in Chihuahua, he decided to pause his studies and relocate to Denver, Colorado, in 1985. This transition brought a tumultuous period marked by personal struggles—feelings of aimlessness, substance use, and alcohol consumption. Seeking amnesty in 1986, Felipe acquired a temporary green card, eventually obtaining citizenship in 1994.

Today, residing in Oxnard, a city sixty miles north of Los Angeles, California, Felipe stands as the principal faith leader of Iglesia de Dios Nuevo Empezar, a church he co-founded in 2004 within the Church of God denomination. His life took a significant turn in 1989 when he accepted an invitation to attend a church service, forever reshaping his life's purpose.

As a natural leader, Felipe pondered ways to exemplify transformation and resilience while giving back to his community.

“How can I reciprocate the blessings God has bestowed upon me and aid not only the youth but also older generations in fostering stronger families and communities?”

Central to Felipe's initiatives is his involvement with the Hispanic Access Foundation's Por la Creación, a Faith-Based Alliance convening pastors to provide spiritual guidance in national discussions about the value of public lands and other environmental issues affecting Latinos. His participation in the Hispanic Leadership Network's 2022 cohort introduced him to leaders in conservation and faith, enhancing his ability to cater to the distinctive needs of Latino congregations.

“Through the Hispanic Leadership Network, I've gained a deeper understanding of the Hispanic Access Foundation and forged meaningful connections. Meeting other faith leaders who recognize the significance of cherishing God and His creation has been an immense blessing.”

For Felipe, this experience extends beyond a mere program—it signifies an opportunity to expand his network beyond local confines, inspiring other leaders to join similar endeavors.

“This organization has been pivotal in my self-discovery journey and integrating tools to encourage greater community involvement. It's imperative that we collaborate, irrespective of race, gender, or faith, as we cohabit the same shared environment.”

In recent months, Felipe concentrated on underscoring the significance of urban parks. As a participant in Hispanic Access' Pre-Latino Advocacy Week, he had the chance to advocate for more resources to improve the health of his community.

“It was my first time in Washington, DC, and it was special to be there, engaging with lawmakers who influence decisions affecting our communities. We attended workshops on effectively communicating with members of Congress. I seized the opportunity to speak with a few of them, inquiring about their plans to address issues in our communities.”

For Pastor Felipe, being a leader in conservation entails ensuring that everyone is involved in processes affecting the universe. “In this journey, I've realized how crucial it is to have safe community spaces for families to recreate, demonstrating our love and respect for nature.”

Beyond his experience leading his ministry and conservation efforts, Pastor Felipe recently joined Hispanic Access Foundation’s cohort of volunteers for the American Red Cross. After a thorough application process, he was one of the selected leaders to assist in times of need in his community and surrounding areas.

"We received an invitation from Hispanic Access about an opportunity to volunteer with the American Red Cross in which participants learned about the organization, and their mission and were invited to apply for volunteer positions.”

He joined the cohort about a month ago. Since then, he has been participating in training sessions, strengthening the skills needed to assist in emergencies related to disaster response and relief, data entry, and service-oriented activities. He experienced his first mission a few weeks ago, shortly after initiating his role as a volunteer observer.

“I received a call at 1:30 am to help assist a family who had experienced a small fire inside their laundry room. I accepted the duty and went there as an observer, gathering relevant data for the Red Cross that is later used to determine the type of support the organization can provide, whether it is financial assistance or any other type of temporary relief. It was a blessing to be part of a positive outcome for this family in my community."

For Pastor Felipe, doing service-oriented work is what brings joy to his role in his community.

“I’ve always liked to help people in need, especially with events related to natural disasters. The information and training provided by the American Red Cross motivated me to be involved in this process of nourishing and strengthening relationships with the community and being able to serve inside and outside of it.”

About Us

Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

Phone: (202) 640-4342

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