An Early Start on the Path of Service
While decisions on career paths are generally made later in life, the experiences of one’s formative years often ignite unknown passions and crystalize focuses that guide the personal and professional decisions of the future. For academic and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals board member, Cynthia Telles, her experiences as a child sparked a commitment to the service of others.
At a very young age, Cynthia had a strong example of what a life of service looked like. Her father, Raymond Telles, served his nation twice as a member of the Air Force, first in World War II and again in the Korean War. His service didn’t stop at the military, and he later was elected the El Paso, Texas county clerk. His work and roles in El Paso would continue to grow, with Raymond becoming mayor of the city and the first person of Hispanic origin to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city.
Always focused on using the best of his talents to impact the world around him, four years later, he was appointed by President Kennedy as the ambassador to Costa Rica – giving him another first, the U.S.’s first Hispanic ambassador. Watching her father’s matriculation through military and government service created in Cynthia a unique understanding of the power of purpose and hard work. This understanding guided her and was reinforced by other pivotal experiences.
One such experience was the time she spent volunteering at the orphanage ran by her great grandmother and grandmother. Long before Cynthia was born, her great grandmother was a minister, midwife, and nurse who opened and ran an orphanage in Juarez. Cynthia’s family maintained her great grandmother’s legacy of service to underserved children, allowing Cynthia to volunteer at the orphanage throughout her childhood. These efforts not only cemented her desire to follow in her family’s legacy of service but further instilled in her a deep sense of and responsibility to community.
While the examples set by her parents and grandparents were core to her foundation, it was a small, everyday occurrence – a mosquito bite – that gave Cynthia the perspective of self and community to pursue her purpose. At age 10, Cynthia contracted viral encephalitis from a mosquito bite and was given three days to live. However, through the dedication and perseverance of doctors and nurses, and support from her family and other patients, Cynthia made a remarkable and unexpected recovery. The commitment to her wellness from the community around her and hospital staff reaffirmed that her life would be devoted to improving the lives of others. She wasted no time setting on her path and shortly after her recovery returned to Costa Rica and began volunteering in a children’s hospital – officially launching her life-long career of service.
From those early years growing up in the light of her family’s love and commitment to others, Cynthia has gone to earn her PhD and garner numerous prestigious positions and honors, including serving as Chair Emeritus of the California Community Foundation and being appointed by President Obama to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. She has also served on the boards of MALDEF; the National Alliance for Hispanic Health; the Pacific Council on International Policy, a non-partisan international affairs organization; and the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles.
Cynthia A. Telles
Presented by Kaiser Permanente