Girien Salazar is the Executive Director of the Faith & Education Coalition for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and was appointed to the OneStar National Service Commission in December. Check out Girien’s bio to learn more about his impressive background and accomplishments.
We sat down with Girien to talk about how his upbringing and military service have fueled his passion for service and volunteering and his commitment to serving diverse faith communities.
Why did you want to serve on the board of OneStar?
Texas is an exceptional and wonderful state. There’s a reason why many consider our state to be a beacon on a hill. Texas needs to continue attracting people to come and see what it is we’re doing that allows us to prosper—not just economically, but also in the spirit of service to our state. There are many people at all levels—from local neighborhoods to state government—that are serving because they believe Texas is great.
This past year, I was encouraged by a good colleague and mentor of mine to apply for the OneStar board, and I wanted to make myself available to the state and the governor to serve my community in any way I can. One of the things that is always dear to my heart is ensuring nonprofit organizations—and especially religious organizations—always have a voice and are always considered as stakeholders in the community. Through this role, I hope to ensure that OneStar has strong outreach to both secular and religious nonprofits and serves all different faith communities.
What unique skills and perspectives do you bring to the OneStar board?
One of the unique skills I bring, which stems from my religious background and from my service with the Navy, is having a cultural and religious sensitivity and awareness. That’s part of my upbringing. I served as a religious program specialist with the Navy and worked alongside numerous faith groups, so I have learned to view things in different ways. Also, I am a Tejano, which means I’m proud of my Mexican heritage, but I’m also a proud Texan. I bring the Hispanic perspective.
How did you first get involved in service & volunteering? Can you share some volunteer service experiences have been particularly memorable or meaningful to you?
My first introduction into service and volunteering was through my faith community and church. We did service projects like serving community meals, performing music productions, and visiting nursing homes. Growing up, I also participated in a lot of summer youth camps. We would host several hundred students a week, and we would be responsible for activities, programs, competitions, and community building. That involved more planning and coordination, and it was a lot of fun.
When I was in college in Waxahachie, I participated in a program called D.E.A.R., which stands for Drop Everything And Read. We would go to the nearby elementary school and pick up a book and read with students. We would make funny voices and inflections to make it an enjoyable experience for them. I really enjoyed that and wish I could do that more often.
While serving in the Navy, I was involved in a basketball diplomacy program in Djibouti, Africa. When I was deployed there, we would bring locals onto our base and organize pick-up games. The whole base would come out and watch at the little basketball court we had, and we oftentimes went out to town and played games there. It was just a wonderful community relations project because we got to connect with the Djiboutians and make some really good friendships.
“We can’t count on merely throwing money at a situation and hoping something will get done. We need to rely on the goodness of people’s hearts and the responsibility and obligation we have toward one another.”
Why do you think it is important for people to serve and volunteer? What value does service and volunteering add to Texas communities?
Volunteering gives honor and dignity to often neglected communities. I think of the times I visited older generations at nursing homes or those experiencing homelessness, who are neglected and forgotten. When people get together—to plan an event or community lunch, to play board games at an assisted living center, or just to hang out and have a conversation—it gives honor and dignity back to these individuals who have been marginalized and pushed to the side. I’ve seen it also in education: a lot of local schools may be underfunded and understaffed, but volunteers come into the schools and can be a resource. That needs to happen because we can’t count on merely throwing money at a situation and hoping something will get done. We need to rely on the goodness of people’s hearts and the responsibility and obligation we have toward one another.
When I was serving on board for San Antonio Parks & Recreation, there were projects that the city would undertake for the parks, but then there were also community groups—people who were volunteers and wanted to make the parks more beautiful—who would connect with others in their neighborhood and say, “How can we get together and improve this trail?” They would do that out of the goodness of their hearts. It was a powerful reminder that the caretakers of our communities aren’t just elected officials—it is every individual who lives there.
What causes are you passionate about?
One of the issues I’m very passionate about is Hispanic education. There are invisible barriers and challenges that the Hispanic community faces when it comes to educational access. I get to serve in a role where I engage with Hispanic pastors and parents and help them to understand some of these barriers and encourage them to find ways for their churches and congregations to promote educational success. It is really important to me to ensure all students—no matter their ethnic background or socioeconomic status—have access to high quality education. That’s one of the reasons I am pursuing my PhD: because I want to provide pathways for my children and those who come behind me.
Another cause that is very important to me is religious liberty and accommodations, which means allowing people to be their full selves and live according to their deepest convictions. That’s something that is not just privy to Christian communities, but a right that should be afforded to individuals of all religious backgrounds in our state. While I was serving in the Navy, I witnessed the efforts our military makes to ensure our soldiers and service members have a place where they can recalibrate when they are serving overseas, and oftentimes that’s through their faith. I want to ensure people are allowed to have a religious experience no matter where they are, even if they are miles away from their families and congregation.
If you could choose a quote to live by, what would it be?
I always tell myself: be willing to lead and teach in your strengths and to serve and learn in your weaknesses. There are going to be a lot of opportunities in your life to serve and learn from people, and you should take advantage of those opportunities. And when opportunities come to lead and teach, you should take those as well. That is why I truly appreciate the work of our state in promoting volunteerism: because we have a lot of people who are in need of a helping hand or listening ear, somebody just to give attention and demonstrate someone cares for them. I think those are the opportunities we have to serve and to learn and lead and teach.