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Rego Park woman faces challenges right out of college

Julietta Lopez works as a constituent liaison in U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer's office. Photo courtesy Roberta Bouer
TimesLedger Newspapers

The search for post-college employment can be a daunting task as many students spend years toiling in unrelated fields before landing career-oriented work in their chosen field of study.

But sometimes the stars align and a student will step out of the hallowed halls of academia and right into a career that is challenging and rewarding.

Julietta Lopez, a 22-year-old Rego Park resident, found herself working full time for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in his New York City district office as a constituent liaison at a time when that position was needed the most: in the days following Hurricane Sandy.

“It was a little overwhelming at the beginning,” she said. “There were so many dire situations.”

Upon arriving in the office, Lopez was immediately trained by a disaster relief team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and given a crash course on benefits available to those affected by the October superstorm. She directs constituents on how to obtain assistance and helps them with alternatives if they have been denied Sandy benefits.

“We deal with individual caseworkers — people who need FEMA aid but don’t know how to get it. We help them through the appeals process,” she said. “Directing them on how to get aid is a challenge. We want them to achieve the best possible outcome for them.”

While the amount of storm-related work has not slowed down in the months since the storm, Lopez said most people understand the steps better and are far more educated about the aid process.

When she’s not working on hurricane aid, Lopez does individual casework for state residents in need of assistance in veteran’s affairs, military affairs, federal government concerns, U.S. Department of Transportation issues and U.S. Small Business Administration matters.

The road to her current position began at home in Rego Park, where her parents instilled in her a sense of social responsibility. But Lopez said her parents never had to force her to volunteer and take on social issues. In fact, Lopez said she cared so much it started to worry her parents.

“My dad said if I was born [in the 1960s], I would have been a hippie-type tied to a tree,” she said. “I just always wanted to help people and take on causes.”

Besides inspiring her to effect change, Lopez said her parents gave her the confidence she needed to believe she was capable of anything.

“I never heard the word minority in my house growing up. My parents thought it had a negative connotation,” she said, adding that she did not hear that word until high school at Dominican Academy in Manhattan. “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will either. Sometimes as a minority you have to work a bit harder to get there, but in the end it’s worth it.”

Last spring, Lopez earned her bachelor’s degree from Marymount Manhattan College with a double major in international studies and political science. During her senior year, she got an internship in Schumer’s office, which turned out to be an excellent primer for her current position in the office. Now she’s already back in school full time for a master’s degree in international affairs.

She attends classes at night and has become quite adept at juggling schoolwork and her responsibilities in Schumer’s office. Hard work to be sure, but Lopez said she ends each day highly satisfied — and maybe a little exhausted.

“It’s a little tough and I don’t have much of a social life,” she said. “But all this hard work now will continue to pay off.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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