By Catalina Combs – March 24, 2021

Who are you?

I am a business-minded professional with good Midwestern values. I am a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a grandmother, and a great cook. I moved to San Diego, California in 2001. Then in 2006, I moved to Pasadena for a job in Los Angeles.

Those who know me well have given me the title of “Marketing Maven,” which I embrace. I own a strategic and digital marketing consultancy. I’ve been in marketing for many years, with time spent in advertising, sales promotion, market research, product management and digital marketing. I’ve done a lot in marketing over the years, for sure. The nickname probably started with one of my very dear friends with whom I went to business school. He just said this is who you are. I was a math major in college. I worked as a pricing analyst before business school. People don’t think of mathematicians when they think of marketing, but it fits my brand of strategic marketing well. Three or four years ago, I was adjunct faculty at Pasadena City College (PCC), where I taught calculus to business majors. It was my first-time teaching. Maybe I will come back to it when I retire.

What made you want to become a volunteer for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses?

Past Tournament President Paul Holman and I volunteer as mentors for small businesses through SCORE, a U.S. Small Business Administration resource partner. We met in the course of our work there, and he found out I lived in Pasadena. Paul shared with me his experience as a Tournament member. Of course, having been president, he has amazing stories to tell. Paul is a pretty good storyteller too. After one somewhat lengthy conversation with Paul, I was ready to become a member. There was one nugget of info I recall vividly. Paul was involved with the negotiation for the Stealth flyover. He got to go to the Pentagon and negotiate. I remember thinking, That’s pretty cool. I am impressed. So, here I am. I have been a member of the Tournament of Roses since 2018.

I moved to Los Angeles to work for Farmers. Farmers has had a float in the parade for many, many years. Because I lived in Pasadena, somehow, I ended up with tickets to the Rose Parade on several occasions. I remember early on when we moved here, my youngest was three, and we were seated at TV corner. We had the parking passes as the sponsor, so I was on the other end of that. It was cold and very early. I think we did that a couple of years. I don’t live too far from Post Parade. I remember walking over there one year after the parade and looking at the floats. So, I had all these experiences before becoming a member. Also, one of my friend’s daughters made the court. Because of the experience her daughter had, she reached out to me when I joined and said, “Oh, my gosh, you joined! I’m thinking about joining because my daughter had such a great experience.” She was so complimentary about the organization, how her daughter was treated, and the opportunities that she got as a result of being on the court.

What are some aspects of your volunteer experiences that you have enjoyed?

With the Tournament of Roses, it has been great to come together with other members to create such an enormous and iconic event. In my first year, I was on Post Parade. I was at the gates and was, essentially, a greeter. I enjoyed hearing stories from visitors who had come from so many different places—some for the first time and some for many, many years. I handed out several rose stickers and took lots of pictures with visitors who wanted a picture with a “white suiter.” It was so much fun!

I also volunteer to help small business owners and nonprofits run their organizations better. I love this work because it involves meeting interesting people, problem-solving, and working with different business models. I choose to serve this way because it lets me do what I love to do and use my strengths to help others.

I also belong to two other membership-based organizations—Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.—where I have had the opportunity to serve in leadership roles for many years. Both organizations are women-led. I have met friends for life through each. Also, both have a community service focus. The thing about taking a leadership role in community-based organizations is that you must learn the power of influence to be successful. These groups are run by volunteers. Arguably, influencing a team of volunteers takes as much, perhaps more, leadership skill as leading a group of employees. I have become a stronger manager—by getting it right and, sometimes, wrong—because of my membership in these organizations.

Why is service and being active in your community so important?

For me, it is a matter of my faith and why I believe I am on the planet. Humans need support and connection to thrive. That is what has been so tough on so many during this pandemic. We have lost the connection that we need. If you look at the most vulnerable among us, you will see that they lack a support network. Being a part of a community means being in service to those around you.

I went to undergrad at Creighton University, which is a Jesuit college. That is the earliest memory I have where I could make decisions for myself about where to serve. I recall there being lots of opportunities to do so. The Jesuits have a focus on serving others and pursuing justice. Getting these lessons and opportunities during those formative years were a gateway to instilling a habit of service.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you have come to face?

Opportunities include the leadership roles that I’ve been able to take. The one thing I like about those is you often have the opportunity to create something new. I like to come in and say, okay, what’s not working? How can I make that a little bit better? I like to think I left my mark on the roles that I’ve had and the organization. I’m currently the Regional Editor for Jack and Jill. In that role, with the support of many members, I’ve created a monthly newsletter from scratch. I hope that’s a legacy that stays in the organization. I’ve been putting processes in place that will help the next person that comes in.

If there was ever a frustration point for me, it’s when people say, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” Usually, that means we’ve always done it this way, and it’s not going to change. I try to be aware of that too because some of these organizations I’ve been in for a couple of decades, and I don’t want to get stuck in, I’ve always or we’ve always done it that way. That’s maybe the biggest challenge: an inflexible organization. It gets to that servant mindset of why you’re in the role of leader. I think a lot of leaders don’t think of themselves as servants. Laura Farber, I thought, was fantastic. She was always so gracious and so appreciative. When Laura came around, she didn’t act like, here I am, and this is what I’m doing. She just appreciated us all getting it done. She was just always very gracious. She seemed to be that servant leader.

Some people say, “I just don’t have the time.” How do you balance your life (work, self-care, family) with helping others?

In many ways, I have been able to incorporate service to others in my daily life. For instance, I can remember, I wanted to spend more time with my older son during his high school years. We started volunteering for an American Heart Association program called Super CPR Saturday. Our local chapter tried to break a record for getting as many people as possible CPR certified in a single day. We were up before dawn to get to our volunteer positions before the doors opened for the event. We spent the day together in service and then went out for lunch. I try to find opportunities like these where service fits into my life goals. When I volunteer with different businesses and organizations, I carry that knowledge and problem-solving know-how into other work experiences. Often, the companies I am supporting are strapped for resources. I take that how-to-be-efficient-with-budgets mindset into projects with my paying clients. Choosing the right places to serve helps me bring balance to my life.

How would you suggest people “find” their place in service?

I would encourage people to think about their talents. What do they do well? Where can those talents be used to make a better community for all? Their gifts may be their day job, a hobby, or just something they love to do. There is enough need in our communities that everyone can find something to do for someone. They might find that service enriches their own life as much as it does someone else. I said earlier, I’m a good cook. So, I’m sitting here thinking how I would use that differently. I keep trying to turn that into a business instead of a service. I’m not sure what that looks like, but there’s something there.