by Tiffany Teng
Sitting down over Zoom with Rolando Zeledόn, former Executive Director (ED) of Bayshore Christian Ministries, feels more like hearing about a tech startup than a nonprofit reaching its third decade - in a good way. In a 45 minute recap of 15 years, I’ve heard about their robotics team, aiming for “step function” growth instead of incremental growth, and that the kids are learning design thinking principles! I sat down with Rolando to reflect on his time leading BCM and what’s in store next.
Before I dive in, I want to say that it wasn’t inevitable that BCM - or Rolando! - would be here, thriving together.
In 2007, I joined the staff of BCM as Executive Assistant to the ED at the time, founder Andrew Hartwell. Within a few months of my joining the team, Andrew announced he’d be stepping down and the search would begin for a new ED. I remember the anxiety at the time, preparing for such a major leadership transition, and knowing the reality that most nonprofits don’t survive their founder leaving. The year 2008 also brought the financial crisis, which was a fundraising crisis for nonprofits. Those were tough years where making payroll each month for the staff of 20+ was a matter of faith, not certainty.
For Rolando, how did an engineer, with 2.5 degrees from Stanford (BS, MS and part of a PhD!), end up leading an organization focused on transforming youth? (A problem any parent can attest is the most complex, least straightforward and most unscalable challenge an engineer can tackle.) I’m not sure anyone can know exactly where or when divine intervention begins or ends (and some would argue, it has neither; it simply is.) but Rolando points to four years earlier, at his 10 year reunion at Stanford, when he got involved with a community technology nonprofit, PluggedIn, which connected him to Andrew, who convinced him to join as Director of Operations. This was also around the same time as Rolando’s personal decision to rededicate his life to Christ.
In some ways, that’s the same thread among all the stories of the staff, parents, kids, and volunteers who are part of the BCM family: that someone invited them to come and that God showed up in their life when they went to BCM.
In 2008, the Board and management team was at a strategic crossroads with three paths: shut down, be absorbed/merge with a larger organization, or keep moving forward. Reflecting on the 12 years since, what God, Rolando, and the BCM team have accomplished is staggering. BCM has served as a convener in the community, of churches across denominations, nonprofits with specific focus areas, and community and business partners, to face the challenges of gentrification, decreased funding for the arts/education, and housing instability. BCM has stayed true to its mission, “equipping east-of-Bayshore youth to grow spiritually, gain life skills and develop as leaders so that they have hope and a future,” while inspiring a new generation of BCM leaders and constantly adapting to the evolving needs of the kids and youth.
I asked Rolando how he saw God show up both personally and professionally in the last fifteen years at BCM and his answer illuminates both who he is and who God is. Rolando describes seeing God at work in the littlest things to the biggest challenges; from seeing a child’s face light up for the first time because they’re learning to read to financial provision month after month for the staff’s salaries and the students’ programs. (I’ll let you decide which is the greater challenge!)
Rolando describes BCM as “the full gospel” and to use more technology terms, “pull instead of push”, which together, tell a story of how people encounter God not through abstract theology being preached at them, but through their human needs for connection, safety and growth being met first by other intentional, proactive humans who also happen to know and follow a loving God who cares about justice and equity.
Listening to Rolando, I’m struck by two things: first, many of us in the professional world would love to have the congruence Rolando describes: serving and leading as Executive Director for BCM sits at the center of his passions for God, for technology and for educating young people. Each individually can transform a life; the trinity of all three is uniquely powerful. Second, Rolando’s trio of passions has shaped BCM as much as it has shaped him. Having been at BCM in 2008 and marveling at what it is now, I see the imprint of an engineer who loves technology and understands that technology fluency is just as important a life skill as literacy for future leaders.
As BCM enters its 37th year of operation, the staff and the future ED face new challenges: a
pandemic that is fundamentally changing both education and how we interact as human beings, a rapidly gentrifying community with shrinking socio-economic diversity, and technology continuing to transform everything we know. Yet, listening to Rolando & reflecting on the last 15 years with him, I am reminded of what is constant: God provides - decade after decade - both the creative, talented people and the resources to help BCM and its youth flourish.