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By Lucy Weberlein

Meet Helia.

Earlier this month, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Lucy Weberlein, was fortunate to virtually meet a local Latina leader to hear about her experiences growing up in Austin and how things have changed during a global pandemic. As part of the Hispanic Impact Fund’s ongoing celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re pleased to share her conversation with Helia Callender.

The day before our call, Helia needed to reschedule. A team member had just lost a close relative, and Helia needed to attend the funeral during our meeting. We rescheduled for the next day, but already I was getting a sense of Helia’s unwavering dedication to her team.

When I join the call, Helia is at work. She takes a few minutes to find an empty break room where things are a little quieter. “I didn’t realize you’d be at work,” I exclaim, worrying that I’m encroaching on her schedule as it is. Helia assures me it’s fine and she’s happy to meet me and take a few minutes to chat.

As she settles in, I ask if today has been busy for her. Helia is the Top Leader at H-E-B’s iconic South Congress location, which has served the surrounding South Austin neighborhoods for over 60 years.

“I’m actually the least busy person [at the store].”

That surprises me, especially as someone who has wandered those bustling aisles.

Helia tells me there are over 300 Partners at her store. “I work for [them]. I can drop whatever I’m doing to help.” I soon learn that goes beyond just her role as Top Leader. She often considers herself to be a “coach, counselor and sometimes parent” for her team.

She tells me that she’s been adjusting to “our new normal,” trying to help her 12-year-old daughter transition to online learning for the new school year. “It’s like being back in middle school,” she laughs. “I’m getting to re-learn things that I’ve forgotten about—Algebra being one of them—so we’re both going through a lot of learning curves right now.”

“Learning curves at home and at work, right?”

“Yes. You know at the start of the pandemic, various departments had to shut down due to just trying to figure out how we were going to work [under the new public health guidelines]. Our team really… helped each other out. Whether it was working in a different department or just picking up more hours. We had no walls, no barriers, we were one team.”

I soon learn that Helia has worked at H-E-B on and off since she was 16.

“I started as a bagger and kind of worked my way up. I took a brief leave of absence when I went into the military. While I was overseas, they kept sending me care packages, so I still felt very tied to H-E-B. Once I finished college, I felt like I was already growing my career at H-E-B, so I stayed. I’m very blessed, they’ve even helped me pay for graduate school.”

Helia beams as she describes her early days with H-E-B and I can see how her career progression has now led her to mentor others wanting to grow with the company.

We begin to wrap up our call, but not before Helia can give one final plug for her team.

“My team is amazing. It’s a stressful time for everybody, and we are not immune to feeling the new pressures COVID-19 brings to our personal and professional lives. I’m just very proud of how they’ve overcome that [stress] and are still able to provide great customer service.”

Since the beginning of COVID-19, H-E-B has made critical pivots for in-store and online shopping experiences to help keep the community safe, healthy, and fed. Additionally, H-E-B has made concerted efforts to equip their Partners with the best and most current information regarding the pandemic so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

Special thanks to Helia for generously sharing her time and story with us.

On behalf of the Hispanic Impact Fund and Austin Community Foundation, we would like to thank H-E-B for their uplifting support of our programming and nonprofit partners.

Support the Hispanic Impact Fund by making a gift today.