- Leticia Latino
As I've shared in past blogs, a few years back I decided to become part of the Women of NATE Mentoring Program, NATE is the Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association so basically, I mentor young women entering the Telecommunications Industry. Just this past month, one of my mentees, Samantha and I were asked to share our experience for the monthly newsletter. After recomposing from reading what she wrote, as it really touched my heart, I thought that it would be a great Monday Motivation blog, because I believe that many times, we think that investing our time in initiatives like this, is not worth it. I think that Sam's story will convince otherwise, and hopefully inspire you to look around and see who needs help, I'm pretty sure someone would show up rather quickly.
My name is Samantha Offley. I am an administrative assistant at Tower Systems, Inc., a mother of two extraordinary little girls, and a Women of NATE mentee. Before the pandemic, I was an arena and convention rigger, walking the beams and climbing truss. Until COVID-19 hit full swing, HIMSS, a huge, multimillion-dollar convention completely shut down in the middle of show install. This was completely unheard of. Not only did the convention center lose millions of dollars, but over 75% of the work force lost their jobs – I was part of the 75%. Out of a job with nowhere to go and a family to support on my own, a friend of mine introduced me to Tower Systems, Inc. and my beautiful (inside and out) now-boss, Lesley Liarikos.
I interviewed with Lesley for a tower technician job, but she saw something different for me. Given the option to take an administrative position in the middle of a pandemic, I would not have to leave my children for 6-8 weeks at a time. Not to mention the hard labor and unforgiving conditions (bless all tower climbers – you guys are amazing). Little did I know at the time what an opportunity this would be, she opened the door for me to learn accounting, real professionalism, operations, permitting, and getting certified as an authorized climber and rescuer. The list goes on. In the entertainment industry these opportunities were never afforded to me, and I was still hungry for more as my eyes begun to open.
Lesley introduced me to the Women of NATE and I felt the spark. This was it; this was what I was looking for. A mentor, someone to share perspectives and guidance in an industry they knew very well; towers were something I knew nothing about. There was not a beat of hesitation. I clearly remember the day I filled out the form and received a call from Christy Hall. Christy spoke to me as if I was an old friend. Her warm demeanor will always resonate with me. She truly cares about the success of the relationships formed. By the end of this initial conversation, it was like she peered into my brain and knew exactly who to pair me with. I remember her kind words as she surprised me with my now mentor, Leticia Latino van Splunteren. Of course, I did not know the name, but I had researched her. I had seen this person somewhere and I couldn’t believe it. She was a speaker on the “WON Empowering Women Today” webinar that I participated on before joining the mentorship program. Leticia was someone I had taken notice of! I was going to meet an active member of the community. Our conversation was only supposed to be 30-45 minutes, but we tripled that time.
Although Christy had no doubts Leticia and I would hit it off, during our meet and greet conversation the bond was immediately formed. Throughout our conversations, she has slowly guided me toward a plan for my professional well-being and development. Something I was clueless about. She is my light down a path of uncertainty and my voice of reason, a mentor that I can confide my true feelings with no negative judgement, only guidance and reason. Notably, Leticia has taught me that it is about my story, my journey and what I can share with the world to lift my fellow human beings who also feel lost. To lead with my heart, but keep sight that things are constantly in motion; things will change. That it’s not about my title, but about what I can accomplish, what can I bring to the table and what makes me unique.
Because of her, I considered school again – something I had not thought of for years. I had destroyed my GPA in my early years of college and did not think that I could afford to even look at going back. She gently convinced me otherwise. At this time, another blessing appeared in my life. It was almost as if the universe had heard my concerns and gave me an answer. The Women of NATE announced their $1,000 scholarship. I couldn’t believe it. How could the timing be so perfect? I had never applied for a scholarship in my life and was doubtful in my ability to receive such an honor. Who was I? An ex-rigger turned admin assistant who hadn’t been to college since 2013; even then I had destroyed my GPA! Leticia made sure to stomp out these doubts and urged me to try. The women in this industry are something different. The whole team was there to squash the negativity spewing from my own brain (thank you so much Sarah, Lesley, Kari, Liza – you guys are the real MVP’s). I held my breath and went for it. I panic wrote until the very last day to submit the scholarship package. Super Bowl weekend came around and on Friday afternoon, I received the call that made me scream with joy. I am one of the 2021 Women of NATE scholarship recipients; across the board my essay was chosen. All the panic, doubt, and frustration would have stayed in front of my focus. I would have never submitted without my mentor and support system. I would not have had the drive to accomplish such a feat as I would have just conformed to the pessimistic feelings.
This is just the beginning; year one of my journey. If there is some block preventing you, my reader, from signing up and connecting you with a mentor, my suggestion to you is to let the doubt go. Learn from someone who has experienced it. Learn from their mistakes, their wins, their ups and downs. Learn to be a leader and change the world.
Mentor: Leticia Latino van Splunteren
Being able to help and support young women entering the Telecom Industry is one of my biggest joys. Having been in the industry for 25 years, I know firsthand how challenging it can get, for men and women, to navigate the intricacies of our industry. More than being a mentor, I strive to be a champion for the incredible women I get involved with. One thing is to have nice chats and provide some guidance and support, another completely different is committing to use your own influence, reputation, and network to help someone else rise, to be their advocate and strive to give them the needed push to get ahead. From the moment I met Samantha I was extremely impressed with her tenacity, energy and ambition. As I got to know her in our mentoring sessions, she shared with me how much she is enjoying the telecommunications industry and how her motivation to learn more about it only grows bigger each time that she is presented with a task unfamiliar to her. She is also committed to understanding her possible career path as she craves getting to a point where she can have higher responsibilities. I take the opportunity to commend Lesley Liarikos, her Manager at Tower Systems, Inc. and fellow WON member for the support and guidance she has provided to Samantha, a true example of women helping women move forward.
In the past year, we spent good time carefully evaluating her professional growth plan, and very early on it became evident that strengthening her education was a crucial factor. She was determined to go back to school even before I shared with her that, in my opinion that was one of the top areas of focus and priorities for her development. Unfortunately, on the personal front, Samantha has had to deal with more than a fair share of personal and economic challenges which have prevented her from pursuing her college aspirations. Once we both agreed that furthering her education made a lot of sense, albeit having to figure out a way to fund the initiative, she immediately got very proactive about it. With her usual hands-on approach, she quickly researched, evaluated options and held meetings with college advisors. Then, in a very serendipitous way, the call for candidates for the WON Education Scholarship 2021 happened at the same time. The WON Education Scholarship was established to encourage more women to enter, and stay, in the tower and communications infrastructure construction, service and maintenance industries, and so when I got the email, the thought to submit Samantha as a candidate was a no-brainer. She worked hard in her submission package, and it was great to see that all those around her, help her in whichever way they could. I cannot express the happiness and gratitude I experienced when she called me with the news that she was one of the recipients. I know that the validation and support that she feels now, are day and night compared to when we started in this journey. As an active Women of NATE, I applaud this great initiative and the Leadership behind it, as it does have the power of transforming someone’s life.
To me is always refreshing and re-energizing when I sense the young energy of wanting to conquer the world, and Samantha certainly has it. What is even more exciting is that she is already talking about how she can pay it forward to others, and to me, that’s indeed the ultimate goal. I truly invite all women in this industry to get involved, because in one moment or another we all can benefit from having a mentor or being a mentee, no matter where you are in your career. The relationship goes both ways and there’s growth and nourishment in both directions.
As for Samantha, I know she will get far, and I am glad and honored to be part of her journey.