A Florida transplant, 29-year-old Chandra Simmons is a primary care specialist at Johnson & Johnson in the metabolism and cardiovascular area. She is a health education enthusiast, pageant winner, mentor and advocate for UCAN. As the oldest of seven kids, Chandra is accustomed to providing guidance and direction to others and continues to do so through her work with UCAN. Her enthusiasm for our youth and dedication to UCAN is shown in the many ways she has served the organization.
How long have you been volunteering with UCAN and how did you become involved?
Chandra: I first learned about UCAN in 2014 at a networking event. A woman that I met there, who has now become a mentor of mine, knew the work that I was doing (through the Miss America system) focused on teenaged girls.
I started out through DFLN (Diermeier Future Leaders Now) doing mock interviews. That was awesome. I loved it. Where my passion comes from with UCAN is the focus on youth. Also, because my dad is from, I would say, a traumatic type of background, very similar to what some of the kids have gone though.
I was raised in a single-parent household. My mom raised four of us by herself, so the guidance part of career and school, and development, are near and dear to my heart. I understand what happens when you don’t have the guidance you need. Putting trauma on top of that can be difficult.
After DFLN I went to Phenomenal Woman and at one point I was there once a month. dedi The first time I met the girls I bought them all journals. The reason I did is because I think about when I was their age, my outlet for coping with what I was going through was writing.
Chandra also spoke on successfully arranging a panel of men (as requested by the young ladies) to answer a variety of questions that the group wanted to have answered from a male’s perspective. The panel was held in conjunction with UCAN’s Project Visible Man Program.
What other ways have you been involved with UCAN?
Chandra: I’ve been on the board (UCAN’s Auxiliary Board for young professionals) for at least two years.
What do you feel is your role on the board?
Chandra: One thing is to diversify the board. I understand and I have heard from the kids that they are not as open to taking advice from people who don’t look like them. I understand it (diversity) is more than skin color. It is also about educational background, skill set and different experiences. But unfortunately for the kids the physical of it is important. My role is to not only get people that the kids want to see on the board and involved in mentoring, but people that also have the skill set, experiences and passion to actually want to contribute. (I’m looking for) people who are there with a genuine intention to give back. My other goal is to bring new ideas to UCAN overall. I am getting my masters in Health Education from Columbia University in New York. I feel like from a community standpoint my priority is to engage, propose and execute on activities and purposes that promote better heath. Not just going to the doctor but also mental health. Also, I want to use the resources I have with Johnson & Johnson to help raise awareness. Talk about your favorite or most memorable experience with UCAN.
Chandra: What I remember most is not really a positive memory but it was impactful. I asked the girls (in Phenomenal Woman Woman) to write down five of their goals and some of them were not able to do it. It put things into perspective and helped me understand the thought process of some of the kids. It fueled me to help people get to that point (where they can come up with goals).
What do you tell people about UCAN?
Everyone deserves an equal chance at an opportunity and an equal chance to be great. I tell people it is a great organization that helps kids that have experienced traumatic things to experience things on a high horizon. I encourage them to get on the board with me and we can help diversify the crowd, raise money and help mentor the kids. Altogether, I have had three friends to fully commit and currently serve as new members.
What else do you want to share?
Adding to the whole diversification part, I did tell the kids that I do understand them, but I do emphasize that they will encounter all different types of people in their life. Cultural competency is important and they need to have that. Don’t shun a Hispanic or Caucasian person because they can add value to your life that you need. Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s about what’s inside. You have to read the book.