Get to Know Our New Team Members, Maria and Tasha

Catalyst is quickly growing! In recent months, we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Maria Peinado as our Imperial Valley Manager and Tasha Matthews as our Administrative Coordinator. Learn a little bit more about Maria and Tasha by reading their responses to the questions below:

maria, what do you do at Catalyst?

At Catalyst I am a Program Manager for the Imperial Valley area. I serve as a liaison for local foundations and non-profit organizations and provide support to the Catalyst staff and board to continue developing meaningful connections with partners in the region.

What was the last book you read?  

The last book I read was Academic Outsider, Stories of Exclusion and Hope by Victora Reyes.  In this book, the author reclaims space for women of color and others who have been excluded and devalued from academia.  The book addresses issues of equality and inclusiveness in the academy. It spoke to me because I think it is necessary to address the role of academia and access to higher education for marginalized populations. I think it is critical to diversify college faculty to reflect our society.

Where is your favorite place to go in San Diego or Imperial Counties and why? 

I enjoy visiting Chicano Park, Liberty Station, the museums in Balboa Park, and the different restaurants available in San Diego. In Imperial Valley, I enjoy going anywhere that offers good coffee, spending time at Fitness Oasis, and attending high school events or music concerts to support our youth. In the summer, I spend many hours at the El Centro Aquatic Center to manage the summer heat.

I enjoy learning about the history of the original people of the Imperial Valley and attending the multiple events offered at San Diego State University (SDSU) – Imperial Valley campus.

What is your favorite part about working at Catalyst? 

My favorite part about working at Catalyst is the openness of the staff and the positive work environment.  I enjoy the collaborative spirit of the work that we do and I especially appreciate the equity and growth mindset of the organization.

If you had $5 million to invest in our region, where would it go?  

I would use the $5 million to fund music and performing arts programs for elementary and high school students and open a fund to cover the cost of special education advocates and access to summer camps for families with special needs children in Imperial County.  I believe that quality music and performing arts education are instrumental to improve the overall ambiance and culture of a community. I believe Imperial Valley deserves quality arts programs, and our residents have a deep appreciation for music and the arts.

tasha, what do you do at Catalyst?

I organize the operational and communication happenings at Catalyst with an administrative flair.

Who is one person you admire in our region and why?

I admire Supervisor Monica Montgomery Steppe because she has been a sensational force within the City of San Diego, especially for Southeast San Diego. She has been an inspiration because of her heart to create equitable impact, make system changes, and truly represent the needs of people. She is also my cousin, and I enjoy connecting with her when we both have the time.

If you weren’t in the social impact sector, what would you be doing?

I do this anyway, but I would be making music. I had a rough upbringing within the foster care system, and as I entered college, I discovered my voice and how to sing. I picked up a guitar and would sing on the trolley to school and go to open mics just to hone my craft. I was featured on a song in March of 2023, called “For You,” by Llgnd. We recorded the music video in Rwanda, so feel free to check it out. I support the worship team at my church and other ministries, and I have grown so much just in the last three years, especially since taking vocal lessons. Who knows, I might just release some more music soon.

The other things I would likely do that I have already been doing are public speaking to encourage youth through telling my story and writing a book on what it looks like practically to change one’s negative thinking.

What is the issue area that you are most passionate about?

I am passionate about the topic of reparations and wealth gaps, especially as it relates to the BIPOC community. I recommend folks read William Darity’s book From Here to Equality if you want to learn more, and I also recommend visiting the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. It’s important to take in the richness (pun intended) of the contributions of black culture, black expression, and black labor. It’s important to be aware of how so much of the financial wealth gap goes all the way back to the free labor that turned the United States’ industrial ecosystem into a money-making machine, and how my community’s ancestors were continually pushed back financially. I loved that leaders in California have been looking at what it means to repair what was made wrong, with the ramifications of our history still impacting the way our systems have operated and impacted the black community in too many ways to count