While Daniela Meltzer’s professional experience has prepared her well for the multiple and varied demands of directing Colorado Academy’s Horizons program, it may be her family’s life experience that has provided her with the best preparation.
Like so many Horizons students, Meltzer comes from a family who knows what it means to flee a dangerous home country and seek safety and opportunity in a foreign land. She has learned from her own refugee ancestors who “started with nothing, zero” and brought their risk-taking ethos to become builders and leaders in a new place. As she assumes leadership of CA Horizons as Interim Director, Meltzer does so with a passionate commitment to the future of Horizons children, rooted in her own family’s experience.
“I strongly believe to my core that every child deserves an excellent education,” Meltzer says. “Education is the key to getting them to the next step.”
Meltzer’s grandparents fled anti-Semitism in Poland and Russia between World War I and World War II and settled in Colombia. Her maternal grandfather was only 13 when his parents sent him to live in Colombia for greater educational opportunities. He went on to open the first textile factory in Bogotá. Her paternal grandfather opened a construction business, and when he died prematurely, her grandmother took over the business, building a chain of hotels, while raising five children.
“This was the 1960s, in Bogotá, Colombia, a very conservative country in which women did not work, so this was an amazing accomplishment,” Meltzer says. “She was a tough cookie.”
Meltzer’s parents were first-generation Colombians, and she was born in Colombia. She speaks fluent Spanish. Her parents wanted more opportunities for their children and for her father, who is a physician, so the family uprooted again, first moving to Israel, back to Colombia, and finally to New Jersey, where her father did his internship in cardiovascular thoracic surgery. Ultimately, the family settled in Los Angeles, where Meltzer grew up. Her far-flung extended family now lives in Ecuador, Panama, Canada, Israel, Australia, and all over the United States.
“All of my family who stayed in the old country perished,” she says. “They all died during World War II.”
True to her roots
Meltzer’s next professional experience was in Oakland with the South and Meso American Indian Information Center, where she arranged conferences and produced bilingual journals and radio programming for indigenous peoples.
While continuing her work with strategic planning and fundraising at Amazon Watch, she stepped into another world, starting one of the first companies using drones to shoot video for commercial purposes. She had the first of her two daughters and reentered the workforce as an event planner, which led to the marketing director position for the Los Angeles Green Festival.
“Our mandate was to bring the diversity of Los Angeles to this festival, and that’s exactly what we did,” she says. “We worked with high schools, community groups, and colleges across the entire county. Organizers said it was the most diverse group of attendees they had ever had.”
In 2013, Meltzer went to work for the California Medical Center Hospital Foundation, where she worked with Hope Street, a program that serves children in distressed neighborhoods with after-school enrichment, health and wellness, family literacy, a summer program similar to Horizons, and other services.
“I need to be doing something where I know that I am making an impact, because that’s what makes me happy,” Meltzer says. “I think this comes from my background and the example my parents set. They always worked with people who needed the most help.”
‘An opportunity they might not have had’
With multiple languages, a background in nonprofit fundraising, experience doing grant-writing, proficiency in marketing, a drive for organizational development, and the personal presence needed for community outreach, Meltzer brings many skills to her new role. She also brings a love for children.
“They are so joyful and inspirational,” she says. “We can learn so much from them because they embrace life.”
Above all else, she brings empathy, because her family’s story parallels that of many Horizons students. She is not looking back at the more than 20 years that Horizons has been at CA. She is looking forward to the future. “I want to work with the team and listen to the community to hear what they want and find out how we can better serve them,” she says. “With each child, we may not see the impact immediately, but at Horizons we are giving them an opportunity they might not otherwise have had.”