A great roar went up at Embassy Suites last night.
Milpitas City Councilmember Bob Nuñez took to the stage amid robust applause, to accept his Milpitas Chamber of Commerce award for Business Person of the Year.
Nuñez started serving on the Council in 2016. Before that, he served on the Milpitas Unified Board of Education and had a 40-year career in education.
“I’m thrilled,” Nuñez said after the awards ceremony. “I don’t look for these [honors]. I like to be the person in the back. I’m just amazed, that anyone would even think about giving me something like this. So I am deeply honored.”
Having lived in Milpitas for about 12 years, Councilmember Nuñez was recognized in large part for his work in The Bob Nuñez Foundation, which he started 2 1/2 years ago.
While accepting his award, Nuñez invited a number of interns who had accompanied him to the event to stand. The work he does with these interns through his foundation lights him up with pride, along with the work he does with the math institute and police K9s.
He provided a bit of background on K9s, or police dogs: His foundation purchased two over in San Jose, and is now looking at purchasing one for The Milpitas Police Department. Finding a qualified K9 — essentially a four-legged police officer — calls for a long, involved process, which Nuñez’s foundation supports on the monetary side.
Oftentimes, these new animals are brought in as replacements for “fallen K9s”, or police dogs who were injured or otherwise incapacitated on the job. Usually, fallen K9s are retired out, after which they go home to live with the officer who was their partner. “Ninety-nine times out of 100,” Nuñez explained, “that’s what happens.”
Delving into what motivated his foundation’s work with the interns, Nuñez said, “There were many times that I’ve seen youth that come out and they spend a number of years getting their college degree…You see these youth come out, get all their credits, get into social service, and then say, ‘Really, this isn’t the job for me.’ Because it really weighs on you, to go out and go into someone’s family and take a child out.”
At which point, according to Nuñez, the kids say, “I’ve now invested all this time and energy and dollars into this degree, and what else am I going to do?”
Not wanting to see students paint themselves into professional corners, Nuñez came up with a solution. He decided to engage with high school students in their sophomore and junior years, and set them up at public sector companies for 4-to-6-week periods, for the sake of shadowing established workers in their fields of interest.
At the end of the 4-to-6-week period, they get asked if it was a positive experience. If the answer’s yes, then the student’s presumed to be on the right track. If the answer’s no, then it’s time for a meeting with their guidance counselor to reevaluate.
Last year, the foundation had eight such interns. This year, they’re up at 16, 5 of whom are in private sector internships. For as the foundation’s work with public sector entities caught on, private companies came knocking, looking for engaged and committed interns for their own operations.
In large part, The Bob Nuñez Foundation’s internship program is devised to prepare students to live in the Bay Area (i.e., to be able to keep up with the area’s high cost of living). “This is an exceptional county,” Nuñez said, “but it’s difficult to live here. So here’s a better option.”
In general, though, the internship program offers a mechanism by which students can simply find out what they’re good at.
The foundation’s work with La Sierra University down in Riverside, where the two entities have partnered up to establish a Latino incubator, has proven invaluable in this regard. Business students at La Sierra can participate in the incubator to ready themselves for their careers as entrepreneurs.
At present, Nuñez’s foundation has established approximately half a dozen such partnerships with different entities. Meanwhile, Nuñez is open-minded when it comes to repeat interns — i.e., students who try the internship program, then stop doing it, but then return later for another try. “Some of them,” he said, “are repeats. [They say], ‘Bob, I want to come back again, but this time, I want to try…”
…something different. Whatever that may be, specifically, is always up to the student. The foundation’s goal is not to define the students’ futures for them. The way Nuñez put it:
“I like to be able to say, I don’t care what you want to be. You decide that. Then when you find that out…Then who can I get to help you? Finish that last mile and a half for you. And I don’t care if you want to be a doctor, a fireman, a lawyer, or if you just want to be a maintenance person —
“We are going to help you get that last mile and a half.”
Also awarded at the ceremony was Rita Lu, who received recognition as Ambassador of the Year. And CommonWealth Credit Union was named Corporate Citizen of the Year.