2020 Greater Tucson Leadership Alumni Excellence Award
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Gabriela Cervantes was beginning her day like so many of us in this time of COVID-19: She was prepped for a day of Zoom meetings.
Translation: She was career-ready from the waist up, still in pajamas from the waist down.
Cervantes didn’t think much about it when she hopped on the call with colleague Julio Espinoza, but then she saw Greater Tucson Leadership CEO Kasey Hill was also on the call. She only grew more confused when they told her, “We’re outside your house!”
The reason for the morning in-person visit? She’d just been named the 2020 recipient of the GTL Alumni Excellence Award.
Cervantes was overwhelmed. “I’ve seen amazing people win various categories,” she said. “It never occurred to me that I could get this.”
Since moving to Tucson in 1998, Cervantes has devoted herself to improving the community and helping people who live here. The list of projects and organizations for which Cervantes has volunteered her time and expertise is truly staggering. She’s an active board member for several critical nonprofits, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona, the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, and Tu Nidito. She has served on countless committees and helped to raise much-needed funds for others.
Cervantes has made her mark professionally in a number of marketing roles. Currently, she works at Snell & Wilmer, where she helps attorneys develop and execute individual marketing plans.
Education is an ongoing focus for Cervantes. She obtained her MBA from the University of Arizona in 2010 and has since completed the GTL program, as well as its first Civic & Political Leadership Academy. Former Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild got to know Cervantes during the yearlong program.
“Gabriela was an outstanding member of the class and I see great potential for her continued leadership in the community,” Rothschild said. “Her personal story, background and accomplishments are inspirational.”
Julio Espinoza, Latinx communications manager for the Arizona Democratic Party, said of Cervantes in his nomination letter, “No matter the challenge, the circumstance of the environment around her, she adapts, she thrives and she helps others succeed.”
Cervantes said what she loved most about the GTL program was getting to learn the community’s inner workings. “I’ve lived here for 22 years …. It’s so easy to take things for granted. You live here, you go to work,” she said.
“GTL has a way of showing you how all the moving parts work together and it shows how if one part isn’t working, it affects how everything functions.”
Cervantes believes her advocacy and volunteer work are her life’s work. “I don’t have children and don’t plan to have children, so this is my legacy. These projects are my children,” she said. “They’re going to be around long after I’m gone. There’s always an opportunity to do something so why not help out?”
Amalia Luxardo, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, has worked with Cervantes extensively. She is struck by Cervantes’ ability to connect people and build bridges. “Professionally, Gabriela managed projects that were once unprofitable and converted them into multimillion-dollar lines of revenue,” Luxardo said. “As I have gotten to know Gabriela these last few years, it has become very clear that she is tenacious, passionate and incredibly dedicated to the causes she believes in.”
Cervantes has no plans to rest on her laurels. She remains actively committed to nearly a dozen local nonprofits and serves in leadership roles in most of them. As Luxardo said, “Gabriela’s drive has truly inspired us all to do better.”