Venezuelan Background Helps Alumna Help Others

Having lived through an almost 11-year separation from her parents after they were denied re-entry into the United States, UCF alumna Raquel Fernandez knows firsthand the difficulties of the immigration process. Now, as the community relations coordinator for the Orange County Tax Collector’s Office, she helps support and educate others going through the same process and aids the rest of the general community in any local government procedures they may need.

Born in Venezuela, Fernandez and her family moved to the United States when she was 17 years old. When her parents were forced to remain behind in their home country, Fernandez and her sisters faced their future in the States alone. Without the help of a lawyer, Fernandez secured her citizenship and fought, successfully, for her parent’s U.S. residency over the course of 11 years. This first-person experience allows her to guide individuals coming into the tax collector’s office with their own struggles.

“Our offices take care of so many crucial transactions that are necessary to legally live in this county, state and country,” she said. “I personally interact with so many people each day, many needing the same type of guidance I needed as an immigrant with sisters dependent on me.”

Fernandez spends her days working to educate the local community about the services provided at the office, as well as meeting with residents face-to-face to discuss their needs. She then conveys their feedback and messages back to Scott Randolph, the tax collector for Orange County.

“I am the ears and mediator between our office and the community,” she said. “The Tax Collector’s Office is one of the most important local agencies in Orange County. Everybody uses our services.”

These services can run the gambit from registering birth certificates to drivers’ licenses or identification cards to the previously mentioned immigration aid. Fernandez uses her skills to connect with a diverse group of constituents.

“One of my most memorable experiences was being interviewed by Telemundo for a Spanish language explanation of the consolidation of the tax collector’s property and business tax departments,” she said. “It was my first press interview ever and I was nervous. But it all went fantastic and I learned so much.”

Fernandez is equipped to help with the demands of her job thanks, in part, to her political science degree from UCF.

“My degree has helped me with technical and critical thinking skills I use every day,” she said.  “Working in local politics is not easy without proper education, experience and the right introduction to the ‘process.’ UCF helped me accomplish all of those things.”

While at UCF, Fernandez interned in the district office of former Congressman Alan Grayson. She eventually became his 2014 outreach organizer and volunteer coordinator, where she learned the ropes of political campaigns. At the same time, she participated in the Venezuelan Student Association (VENSA) at UCF, connecting with other students and educating people on campus about Venezuelan culture.

“I knew UCF could provide me an opportunity for a successful future,” she said. “I originally searched and searched for universities that offered a program I loved and which would allow me to stay in the state I first called home when I moved to this country. Everything I needed to know for pursuing a career in politics was right in front of me.”

When she graduated in 2015, she used the knowledge and skills she gained from her past internships, her experiences working with grassroots campaigns and her intense drive and hard-work ethic to land her current position working for Scott Randolph.

“My favorite thing about my job is the fact that I am the bridge between our local community and a county government agency,” she said. “Earning a degree in political science provided me extensive theoretical knowledge in local and international politics.”

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