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Meet New JP Austin Executive Director Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Ph.D.

Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia, the new executive director of JP Austin, reveals her affinity for and connection with JP moms in this inviting conversation.

New JP Austin Executive Director Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Ph.D., has been enjoying meeting all the moms and children on her campus. A recent conversation with a mom at pre-K graduation led her to realize, “We’re all JP moms. We’re all moms in this space, and we all have these same concerns and the same love and these same passions.” It’s just one example of the relationship-building that has been so central to her life and career up to this point — and to her new role at JP Austin.

Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia shared this anecdote with JP alum and Austin Community Board of Trustees member Cristina Guajardo, who led a special conversation welcoming the new leader to the broader JP Austin community. With 20 years in nonprofit, civic engagement, social justice and education sectors, Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia has dedicated her career to building authentic relationships in the Austin region. This special conversation made it clear that, in addition to relationship-building, Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia will be leading with community, systems change and policy in mind.

Watch the full conversation here.

Community is key and starts from the top down.

Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia’s affinity for and connection to JP moms shines through. When speaking with the mom at that pre-K graduation, she learned that they each had three sons who had the same age differences among them — but 15 years apart. While this JP mom shared her anxieties about one of her boys entering kindergarten, Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia shared hers regarding the son she’d just dropped off at college, and they commiserated over mothering sons and raising them to be men. Her connection to this mom went beyond shared fears, hopes and passions, though: It translated to her leadership role. “Every time I see these three little boys, I want to grab them and squeeze them,” she said, “because they’re going to grow up, and I want to make sure that we’re creating the best possible space for them.”

The significance Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia places on relationships and community-building is also evident in the rapport she’s built with Guajardo, which began as soon as the new campus leader opened up her calendar to chat with community members. With shared identities as first-generation college students and Latinas from migrant farm-working families, they each inspire the other, and their excitement to partner together in JP’s work was palpable.

“What motivates me is building strong teams and building strong relationships,” Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia explained, “and then bringing the power of all those relationships together to really enact change.”

“Public policy is my jam.”

When Guajardo asked how her life led her toward service and justice, Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia told the story of her opportunity to take dual-credit courses as a high school student. It wasn’t until she had to figure out transportation and how to pay for the textbooks that she understood all the layers involved in this opportunity — systemic barriers that might keep her from accepting it. Thanks to the support of a dedicated counselor who believed in her, as well as her family and other sources of support throughout the community, she was able to take those courses after all.

But the experience imprinted on her mind the weight of systems when it comes to opportunity access, which has affected her career trajectory, her choice to join JP, and how she thinks about the work JP is doing with moms. “Sometimes when we hear systems change, it’s like it’s big and it’s unsurmountable, and some of them are,” she said. “But some of them are as simple as, Hey, when we do dual-credit textbook scholarships, we give those with dual-credit courses. We think about things in a holistic way so that the people who need those opportunities the most can actually benefit from the opportunities.”

“It’s the most critical time to be centering women, to be centering single moms, to be centering women of color and their children.”

Dr. Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia

Thinking specifically of JP Austin, Guajardo brought her next question to the local context. “Our nation, our state, and our city are facing some very difficult issues right now. What does it mean for you to be leading an organization like JP Austin in this historical moment?” she asked.

“It’s the most critical time to be centering women, to be centering single moms, to be centering women of color and their children,” Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia responded. And she went on to note the necessity of JP’s two-generation approach. It’s not enough to ensure we’re doing everything possible to support moms’ success; we also have to do our best possible job caring for JP kids so that we’re creating a better world for them to enter once they leave. Creating that better world means more than our critical direct-services work.

“Anyone that’s on [this call] that knows me knows that public policy is my jam,” she shared excitedly. “Everything we’re doing at JP is direct services and systems change — we need both. … The reality is there are great disparities, and we need to acknowledge those, and we need to address them with direct services, address them in policy, and then we need to change them with policy.”

JP Austin’s future: It all comes back to relationships.

When asked how people can best support her vision, Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia encouraged attendees to not only give moral support but also to take meaningful action and make relationship connections. Ultimately, it all comes back to relationships — certainly with policymakers and other elected officials, but with people in housing and city development, too. “A lot of those are going to be those connections to people that are in different places of power and have access to different levels of information,” she emphasized, “and that will allow me at JP to really center our moms into those places.”

Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia tapped into one of JP’s guiding principles: Women experiencing poverty can serve as key bridge-builders between decision-makers and communities to scale those solutions to meet the needs of their families and broader communities. “We need to make sure that those single moms of color — you’re hearing them, that they’re at that table and you’re hearing their story and you’re really centering their story because they’re the ones that are most impacted by those decisions.”

Guajardo made it a point to highlight the importance of JP moms and alums in JP’s future as well. “One of the things that a lot of people may not know about JP moms is that we are all eager to give back,” she said. “We are honored that you have taken on this role, Gloria, and we want to help you achieve and succeed just like we have been helped and supported to succeed and achieve our goals.”

The collective power of all these key relationships is one aspect that most energizes Dr. Gonzales-Dholakia in her new role.

“I’m going to be in this position where we’re building relationships and bringing all this relationship power together, and so I’m excited,” she shared enthusiastically. “I’m looking forward to what are we going to do, how are we going to change things up in Austin, Texas, with all this power.”

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