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15D AGO

Vision beyond sight: How Juanita Sepulveda shaped the future of her family

5 Min Read

Beyond the Ropes

Juanita Sepulveda’s community involvement is wide-ranging, and she advocates for female veterans and Latina leaders, in particular. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

Juanita Sepulveda’s community involvement is wide-ranging, and she advocates for female veterans and Latina leaders, in particular. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)



    Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR

    Juanita Sepulveda had just delivered food to the student-run pantry at Texas A&M-San Antonio and dropped off clothes at the Career Closet so others would have professional attire for job interviews. A stop at Goodwill was next on her agenda.

    The busy entrepreneur, a former Marine who now runs three successful businesses, sandwiched a phone interview between those errands. And as she talked, it quickly became evident why she is so driven to help others.

    Sepulveda helps because she once needed help herself.

    In the lingering throes of the 2008 financial crisis, Sepulveda, a single mom of seven, found herself homeless. SAMMinistries helped her find a new place to live. And when her three youngest children were missing assignments at school because they couldn’t see the blackboard, the same non-profit pointed Sepulveda to I Care San Antonio.

    The organization of 40 volunteer eye-care specialists, which is among the beneficiaries of this week’s Valero Texas Open, has treated more than 58,000 patients and provided more than 45,000 pairs of glasses. Three of those pairs went to Sepulveda’s children.

    Juanita Sepulveda poses with two of her seven children, daughters Ruth and Magdalene. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    Juanita Sepulveda poses with two of her seven children, daughters Ruth and Magdalene. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    “People take for granted their vision, and they don't realize that that's an amazing tool that can either hinder you or really propel you forward,” she says. “So, when we went and got the glasses, I mean a simple smile and kindness, and the clinic treated us like clients.

    “They didn't treat us like we were subpar humans because we were poor. ... Being indigent didn't matter to I Care. What they cared about was the fact that my children were going to get what they needed. And they did.”

    Since the tournament debuted in 1922, the Valero Texas Open has distributed more than $232 million to area non-profits like I Care SA. The Valero has a long-standing tradition of supporting current and former members of the military like Sepulveda, as well, through programs like its Night to Honor Our Heroes presented by Boeing on Friday and the Heroes Pavilion presented by Upland Exploration.

    “I don't miss an opportunity for praising them, because not enough people have gratitude,” Sepulveda says of I Care and the tournament. “They take services and walk away. And I don't blame them because sometimes shame is attached to it. …

    Juanita Sepulveda sets up for a golf tournament to help raise funds in support of a local San Antonio women's organization. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    Juanita Sepulveda sets up for a golf tournament to help raise funds in support of a local San Antonio women's organization. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    “It took a long, long time to realize that my story wasn't weakness. … I was strong to ask for help. I think that's really the bottom line is stop stereotyping people who need help because you may be passing up an opportunity on the next Jimmy Buffet, on the next Albert Einstein or the next who knows?”

    Sepulveda calls herself “first generation everything.”

    She was born in Piedras Negras – “the kind of little town where if you blink you miss it,” Sepulveda says – on the Mexican border, and her family migrated to Texas when she was young. Her mother realized early on the value of the educational system in the United States, and the family returned home to get the necessary documents so Sepulveda and her siblings could attend school.

    Sepulveda graduated from high school and planned to study medicine in college, but the cost was prohibitive, and she didn’t want to go into debt. A friend mentioned the military could provide a path to higher education. Another told her to forget the Marines, though, because she’d never make it.

    “So that’s the one I joined,” says Sepulveda, who likes a challenge.

    Sepulveda spent a little more than eight years in the Marines, leaving with the rank of an E4 Corporal. During her service she was stationed at California’s 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and the Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

    Juanita Sepulveda spent a little more than eight years in the Marines, leaving with the rank of an E4 Corporal. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    Juanita Sepulveda spent a little more than eight years in the Marines, leaving with the rank of an E4 Corporal. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    She worked in supplies and warehousing, as well as logistics. She was a rifle range coach, worked with explosives and was licensed to drive a variety of military vehicles.

    “I even got to rappel and go on helicopters,” Sepulveda says. “… The military almost entices you to be more adventurous. The adrenaline junkie is a perfect place for them, and I didn't realize I was an adrenaline junkie because stereotypically women are not.

    “But the Marine Corps helped me conquer a lot of fears, and it developed that self-awareness and that self-empowering persona that you didn't realize existed, to be honest.”

    Sepulveda married a fellow Marine, and they started a family. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan the couple were poised to deploy. But with no one in their extended family able to take care of the children, Sepulveda and her husband decided she should end her military career.

    “We saw so many children just devastated with their parents gone,” Sepulveda says. “… So, though my love for the Marine Corps was great, I love my children more.”

    She and her husband would later divorce and she moved the family back to San Antonio in 2006. She found a job at an automobile manufacturing plant but eventually resigned to go back to college, opening a childcare business at the same time.

    During the recession that began in late 2007, though, Sepulveda found herself homeless, and that’s when she reached out to SAMMinistries and I Care SA for help.

    Juanita Sepulveda volunteers to provide Christmas lunch at a senior center. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    Juanita Sepulveda volunteers to provide Christmas lunch at a senior center. (Photo courtesy Juanita Sepulveda)

    “I tell people, I'm a product of all these nonprofit organizations,” Sepulveda says. “I am the result of people's kindness and generosity and belief that they're actually affecting people positively.”

    Sepulveda went on to earn her undergraduate and two masters’ degrees from Texas A&M-San Antonio and she serves on the school’s Foundation Board of Directors. She is the COO at Vanyel Investments, which provides training in trading in the stock market.

    Her community involvement is wide-ranging, and she advocates for female veterans and Latina leaders, in particular. She is a recipient of the George H.W. Bush Point of Light Award, as well as a George W. Bush Institute scholar.

    While the accolades are many and the service considerable, Sepulveda never forgets how helping hands raised her up.

    “I hope people never forget that I am where I am because of people's kindness, and they saw me as a diamond in the rough,” Sepulveda says. “Now I'm shining because people polished me.”

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