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Dianna Rios

Economic Development Coordinator, County of Humboldt

I was seventeen when I got my first job. On my own for the first time, I had just given birth to my daughter and left my childhood home behind. My friend encouraged me to apply to her mom Norma’s restaurant where they both worked, Las Cazuelas in Fortuna. They offered me a deal; if Norma liked me, I could stay past my friend’s maternity leave. If Norma didn’t like me, then my friend would take my place again after her leave was over. I wasn’t really in a position to say no, and I was so grateful that they were willing to take a chance on me.

Norma was a tough boss. She didn’t sugar-coat anything. I showed up on my first day, nervous and eager to impress. She put me right to work and asked me to clean the bathrooms. After I'd finished, she came up to me and said, “If the bathrooms aren’t cleaned right, it’s a disservice to our customers. You need to clean them again.”

At first, my pride was hurt, because something like cleaning the bathrooms had seemed so trivial. But over time, I admired how direct Norma was with me. Over time, I realized my role at this job actually had an impact. It would have been so easy for me to feel hopeless and negative, starting at the bottom of the barrel and working my way up in the service industry. But witnessing the pride Norma took in her business, and her unwavering standards, was humbling; I gained a more solid sense of purpose in the work I was doing there. I wasn’t “just” a server, punching in and clocking out–my work would have an impact on the community.

Needless to say I kept working at Las Cazuelas, and was able to make connections with local community members and leaders. I didn’t realize it at the time, but working there opened so many doors for me. Eventually I moved to Eureka, and found work in retail and then media, in print and radio advertising. I was trying new things. Trying to find my footing. The more I connected with and learned about locals' impact in Humboldt, the more Humboldt started to feel like this interlocked community, and the more driven I felt to give back in some way I couldn’t see yet.

I had no idea I’d wind up working with the county to improve businesses in Fortuna for the last 12 years. Or that my work would earn me Businesswoman of the Year in 2018. That I’d meet the man of my dreams, a die-hard volunteer, someone whose heart is in the community as much as mine.

If I could talk to seventeen year old Dianna, I’d tell her that cleaning those bathrooms for the second or third time is nothing, and also everything. It’s so small in the grand scheme of things, and also the first step in a long and fulfilling career. Today, so many of my mentors, my teachers and those who supported my growth–they’re my peers now. And I wouldn't change that for anything.

Dianna Rios
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