Graduate uses degree to help hometown community

February 1, 2016

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When Milee Ray ’15 looks out her office window, she sees her home. The AT&T Center is visible, as is the San Antonio neighborhood it resides in. Growing up on the east side of the city, Ray understands the concerns, struggles, and values of the African-American community. As an aide for Councilman Alan E. Warrick, II, Ray’s job is to listen to and be a voice for the community on anything from potholes to crime awareness.

The social entrepreneurship major has always wanted a career that made a difference. She is often out in the field finding out what people need help with and what they either like or don’t like about what the city of San Antonio is doing. After earning an associate’s degree in event management from St. Philips Community College and transferring to Texas Lutheran University, Ray found her niche.

“I met Dr. Alicia Olson at Bulldog Basics and her passion for the social entrepreneurship program connected with me,” Ray said. “I realized it was the way I could really help people and make a difference in someone’s life.”

Ray, who specialized in nonprofit leadership, said the guidance from Professor Olson and Program Director Professor Judy Hoffmann, had a tremendous impact on her.

“They’re both so passionate about giving back, helping others, and creating innovative ideas,” Ray said. “Dr. Olson saw something in me and helped me grow into myself. Being a transfer student going from a junior college to a university, I was worried if I was going to get that same kind of one-on-one relationship with the professors. I saw that the majority of TLU professors have an open-door policy and it really helped someone like me feel connected to the campus community and be successful.”

Not only did Ray feel comfortable at TLU as a nontraditional transfer student, she said it was the openness and acceptance of her peers that made the difference.

“I’m actually closer to the age of many professors,” Rays said. “So I think being able to talk with them and also joining groups like Black Student Union and Sigma Delta Lambda was important. Being part of BSU and having a place where I could go and talk to them about certain things was really meaningful to me. Overall, there is this kind of family-oriented mentality at TLU and I’m glad I am a part of it. I had a place there.”

Now in her new role as a city council aide, Ray and her colleagues are focused on developing an eastside mentorship program.

“I actually reached out to Councilman Warrick after seeing him on the news,” Ray said. “He was talking about a kid who didn’t go to an afterschool program at the local YMCA one day because it wasn’t available anymore and he was murdered. Councilman Warrick mentioned about how the young man didn’t have anywhere to go and how we needed volunteers to mentor the youth in that area. I actually remember him saying, ‘I want kids who look like these kids mentoring them.’ I called him soon after that and asked how I could help.”

Ray knows the daily struggles many African-Americans face and the ability to empathize is key in finding solutions.

“It’s so important to be able to identify with the individuals you’re helping,” Ray said. “We have children who say, how can this person understand me? He doesn’t go home to a house with no lights and no heat. There has to be some kind of connection with these kids. A big part of my job is relaying information back to Councilman Warrick and trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. When we truly understand people, we can help them. That’s a big part of the social entrepreneurship program at TLU and I’m applying it to the real world.”

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