Rufino Mendoza, Sr. was a Hispanic-American advocate for quality education for Hispanic youth in Fort Worth public schools. He led the campaign for Hispanics and addressed the children's education concerns in the district. Mendoza grew up in a family that fought against poverty but stressed the importance and value of education as the avenue to a better quality of life. While actively volunteering in his community, he saw the intelligence and potential in the Hispanic youth. Mendoza was concerned about how the disadvantages of poverty and racial barriers facing Hispanics could affect them. With this in mind, he decided to commit to improving the community's educational opportunities.
Cristianna Abilez, MD, a JPS Family Medicine physician, was inspired to pursue medicine by her grandfather, Rufino Mendoza, Sr.'s, strong efforts to improve lives.
"I have pictures of me pretending to be a doctor, and my grandpa was with me," Dr. Abilez said. "He always encouraged me to be what I wanted to be, and those pictures are really special to me because they remind me of how far I've come. I didn't really know what that involved or the hard work I'd have to put into it, but I knew that's how I pictured myself."
Dr. Abilez joined JPS Health Network in 2022. Her interest in working at JPS began when her father, who is in law enforcement, shared that if anything happened to him while on the job, he wanted to be treated at JPS. Additionally, her grandfather's influence significantly shaped her career as a physician. She is committed to serving the JPS community because it aligns with the values instilled in her.
"My grandpa is definitely in a lot that I do, and many of my family members feel that way," Dr. Abilez said. "He taught us not only to fight for our own family but to ensure everyone is treated equally. JPS personifies that by not turning anyone away and providing treatment for anyone who enters our doors. A lot of what I do is treat others with kindness, listen, and help them as best as I can, and that’s what he did and taught us to do."
Mendoza's efforts to do better and stress the importance of education inspired many. His efforts were so impactful that the Fort Worth Independent School District elementary school, formally known as Denver Avenue Elementary, was renamed in his honor. The school now symbolizes Mendoza's dedication to education and his impact on the community.
"It makes me very proud because he had a ninth-grade education, but he knew enough about the law and surrounded himself with people who were lawyers so he could advocate for equal education for Hispanics and African Americans in our Fort Worth community," Dr. Abilez said.
In November, Dr. Abilez visited Rufino Mendoza Elementary School to give presentations to students for career day. This allowed her to provide the representation that she always wanted and inspire the next generation just like her grandfather did for her.
"As a child, if I had seen someone that looked like me come to my school and said, 'Hey, I'm a doctor, and you can be one too,' it would have changed my life," Dr. Abilez said. "I never had that growing up, and no one in my family was in medicine, so it was isolating in the sense that I had to figure out all the steps and the complicated applications on my own. To have someone to look up to and reach out to from the community would have been special. So, I want to be that for these kids. Not just at the school, but in general.”
At the career day event, many members of the Rufino Mendoza family represented different career fields. The impact this family is making on their community is special because they provide a foundation for students to understand that they, too, can succeed in anything if they continue to persevere. Maria Mendoza, a counselor at Rufino Mendoza Elementary, emphasized the importance of having the family return to their community.
"To have community representation come back to help inspire our youth is very important," Mendoza said. “It is vital for the students to see that they can be doctors, lawyers, bankers, police officers, or administrators. I really enjoy putting career day together because I know I have the support of the Rufino Mendoza family, and when they come back, it's like a family reunion. It's significant for the students to see the family that the school is named after come back and show they are serving in various positions. They need to see that because it's essential for them to see our community being successful.”