Mercedes Elizalde was born and raised in Hayward California, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area. She relocated to Seattle, WA in fall of 2010 and then to Portland, OR in the summer of 2018. Mercedes was the first in her family to attend college and earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She carries a passion for social justice, equal opportunity and compassion throughout her personal and professional endeavors.

Mercedes started working when she was 14 as a peer educator and summer camp counselor. Later during college she started working as an after school program youth leader and eventually went on to run her own after school program with the same organization at age 20. Mercedes was drawn to youth development work because of the great benefits she gained from the inspiring youth leaders who took an interest in her. Mercedes will be the first to tell you, the youth leaders from her childhood were the people that led her to the path that would lead to her own stability and success.

After successfully building an after school program for over 150 children with a dozen staff and volunteers in Oakland, CA, Mercedes decided to try a new adventure and moved to Seattle, WA. In Seattle, Mercedes continued her work with direct service organizations, moving from youth development to housing and anti-poverty programs.

It was during this time she began volunteering with advocacy based organizations and developed a strong desire to address systemic causes of poverty and inequity through policy engagement. Working mostly as a direct service worker in housing and homeless services, she saw the power in bringing those most impacted into public policy advocacy.

This passion continued to grow and culminated in Mercedes running for the Seattle City Council in 2015. Although her bid for election was not successful, she was offered a job with one of the newly elected councilmembers. She worked as the Policy and Engagement Strategist for Councilmember Debora Juarez. Working for the City Council provided an opportunity to better understand systems of power and how they impact direct service work.

In the summer of 2018 Mercedes was again ready for a new challenge and started looking for an opportunity to combine all she had learned about direct service and public policy. She moved to Portland Oregon and started working as the Director of Public Policy at Central City Concern, a large multi-discipline direct service organization. Mercedes is now the Director of Advocacy at the Latino Network leading a team of advocates and leadership development professionals, and is Board President at Northwest Instituto Latino. Working at the intersection of direct service and public policy, Mercedes is able to combine her passions for community empowerment and addressing root causes of social issues.