NaFFAA calls on younger generation to step up, be engaged, make history (Part 2)

Lt. Mark Arevalo, U.S. Navy Reserve, presents the colors at the opening ceremony of the NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference in Las Vegas.

By Mark Polo Eyo

NEC DAY 1- National Advocacy

The first day of the conference kicked off with discussions on national advocacy that included a bipartisan panel of former commissioners of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders

The day was also filled with workshops and discussions on hot-button issues such as mental health, LGBTQ+ identity, FilAm Alerts Program, and anti-Asian violence. 

Kevin Acebo, one of the panelists presented AAPI Hate statistics. He said, “Hate has a devastating impact on mental health. Among Asian American individuals who experienced a hate incident reported to Stop AAPI Hate, almost half (49%) reported depression or anxiety. Almost three-quarters (72%) named discrimination against them as their greater source of stress, even ahead of their health concerns during the pandemic.”

NEC DAY 2- Leadership Development

The second day of the conference was geared toward leadership development. This day commenced with a presentation from the NaFFAA Capital Region Chair Ryan Namata. He presented findings from the Filipino-American survey of voting demographics. 

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak graces the opening of the National Empowerment Conference. He is welcomed by, from left: Leo Belmonte, Desert Mountain region chair; Mariela Fletcher, national president; Brendan Flores, national chair; Gloria Caoile, founding member; Jacquie De Joya, Nevada State chair; and Amie Belmonte, member of the Board of Trustees.

Namata shared, “Our Filipino-American Survey will be informing of the broader FilAm demographic in the United States and how NaFFAA goes about building a pipeline of leadership. We appreciate the sacrifices and willingness to help further grow our Filipino American community by our elders. But this should also be a call to our younger generation. We encourage you to step up, be engaged, and rise up to leadership roles for our community.”

Danielle Ocampo, EPYC (Empowering Pilipino Youth Through Collaboration) director, also hosted a panel discussion on Intergenerational Dialogue, where the youth participants and audience members discussed ways to bridge gaps to build a more united community. 

Day two’s main event was NaFFAA’s Got Talent, where each region showcased their talents. Jacque de Joya, state chair of Nevada, commented on the event saying, “It feels good to hold such an event that showcases everyone’s talent and have fun together. I am glad we were able to gather in-person as a NaFFAA family and laugh together after being separated for more than two years due to the pandemic.”

NEC DAY 3 – Civic Engagement

The last day of the conference was centered on topics of civic engagement. The founders started the day with a history of how NaFFAA was organized in 1997. 

Jon Melegrito, the NaFFAA’s first executive director, shared that when he was offered the NaFFAA executive director position, “I have to choose between this role and another job that pays more. I have a family to feed, a house and school tuition to pay for, but I have this feeling that taking the NaFFAA role is the right thing to do and I know I made the right choice.”

The day was also filled with speakers who discussed the FilAmVote, Presidential Appointments, Civic Participation and Running for Office. Nevada State Assemblymember Glen Leavitt; Mayor of Artesia, Calif. Melissa Ramoso; Elected Member of the San Francisco Republican Party Central Committee Rudy Asercion; and former mayor of Cerritos, Calif. Mark Pulido led this discussion.

NaFFAA officers take their oath before National Chair Brendan Flores. From left, Mariela Fletcher as the new national president; Christopher Rivera, national vice president; Angeles Carandang, national treasurer; members of Board of Trustees Gio Duaqui, Art de Joya, and Armin Sayson

During the third day, the 25th Anniversary Gala was held. Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Nani Coloretti, the highest ranking FilAm in the Biden Administration, spoke to over 600 guests in attendance. The keynote speaker was Sheila Marcelo, the co-founder and CEO of Proof of Learn, a Web3 learning platform with a mission to unlock accessible, high-quality education across the world. Marcelo founded in 2006. Executive Director Kelly Coldiron moderated a Fireside Chat with Marcelo, who was a recipient of the Loida Nicolas Lewis Award — named after NaFFAA co-founder — for her exemplary leadership and commitment to serve.  

Organizational Restructure and Election

During the third day, Brendan Flores announced the end of his term as president and the continuation of his role as the National Chair. Mariela Fletcher, a Seattle-based community leader who previously served as Flores’ vice chair, will take over as president. Flores will be leading the reorganization of NaFFAA’s board of governors to reflect the structures of other large national non-profit organizations. For her part, Fletcher will be handling the operational priorities in strengthening NaFFAA’s blueprint by empowering the regions. 

Flores is the longest-serving president and chair and the youngest ever to serve in those roles. His term as president was highlighted by pioneering youth engagement, inclusion, and diversity. He was recognized for his global involvement in Geneva, Tulong Sulong, funders and several sponsors. During his term as president, NaFFAA saw a record number of corporate sponsorships.

Flores commented, “Mariela Fletcher is the right leader for the job. She served under three NaFFAA national chairs and as board member for several organizations. She has a wealth of experience on how to lead effectively and efficiently. Her main role will be finding means to strengthen our NaFFAA regions. During this uncertain and challenging times, we need a leader who thinks outside the box and leads with charity towards all. This is what a Mariela Fletcher brings to the table as the new NaFFAA president.”

The newly elected executive board was also recognized:  with Flores retaining his role as the National Chair; Fletcher stepping up as the new National President; Christopher Rivera as National Vice President; Angeles “Jelly” Carandang as National Treasurer; and Aldrin Carreon as National Secretary. Executive Director Kelly Ilagan Coldiron will continue to serve in her position under the new administration. A new Board of Trustees was also inducted, including:  Gio Duaqui, Art de Joya, Armin Sayson, and Nadia Jurani. We thank outgoing executive leaders Dr. Aida Rivera and Abbey Eusebio for their service to the organization. 

Co-founder Loida Nicolas Lewis shares the history of how NaFFAA was founded.

Said Fletcher, “I am grateful and excited to serve in this capacity. We have a great team full of energetic leaders who are ready to serve our more than four million Filipino Americans… With this group, I hope we can hold our north star vision together, build our people with genuine relationships, make deeper connections with our partners, and continue forging together in shaping the future of NaFFAA in the next 25 years.”

Sunday mass and awarding

An interfaith mass was held in gratitude for a successful NEC Conference and in prayers for safe travels to all those traveling back home–near or far.

At the conclusion of the conference, the following organizations and individuals were recognized for their exceptional contributions to the Filipino-American community:

PRESIDENTIAL IMAGE AWARDS (for their outstanding commitment to uplifting the Filipino story/narrative) 

  • Kollective Hustle (Romeo Marquez)
  • TOFA (Elton Lugay)
  • So Jannelle (Jannelle So)


  • Loida Lewis 
  • Michael Dadap 
  • Rodel Rodis 


  • Jon Melegrito 
  • Bing Branigin 
  • Giselle Rushford 
  • Gloria Caoile 
  • Rozita Lee

Brendan Flores Millennial/Emerging Leadership Circle Award 

  • Rachelle Ocampo – Millennial Awardee
  • Kelly Ilagan Coldiron – Millennial Awardee
  • Aldrin Carreon – Emerging Leader Awardee

Loida Nicolas Lewis Women Pioneer Award

  • Sheila Marcelo 

Alex Esclamado Community Service Award 

  • FPACC or the Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce

Presidential Citation for Civic Leadership Excellence

  • Honorable Mark Pulido, former mayor of Cerritos
  • Honorable Ron Falconi, Mayor of Brunswick
  • Steven Raga, candidate for New York State Assembly

Presidential Partnership Award (in honor of their strong, continued contribution to a prolonged relationship)

  • TFC 
  • RFL Foundation 


National Civic Engagement Award – Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA)

National Advocacy Award  – AARP 

National Leadership Development Award – UniPro  

National Chairman’s Leadership Excellence Award- NaFFAA Executive Board

A panel composed of Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration leaders discusses the theme of  Intergenerational Dialogue.

The next 25 years

The NaFFAA’s three-day National Empowerment Conference is a testament that much could be done and accomplished when the Filipino American community is united. With the newly reorganized executive board and trustees, NaFFAA looks forward to continuing to be the voice to the more than four million Filipino Americans in the United States. 

Flores concluded, “I would like to express my gratitude to our host state of Nevada, host Desert Mountain Region, executive board, trustees, regional/state chairs, and volunteers. Thanks to all who participated. The most important thing now is what we do with what we gained during the conference as we press forward together towards the next 25 years of NaFFAA. I hope that instead of saying 4 million strong, we can proudly say that we are more than 5 million strong. We need the younger generation, our youth, to step up and rise up to the challenge. This is a collective effort. Together, let’s make history and continue to write our story.”

Mark Polo Eyo is the Communications Lead for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. He is a native of Gapan City, Philippines, and currently resides in Orem, Utah. A graduate of the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business Master of Public Administration Program, he is currently a project manager for a tech company in West Jordan, Utah.

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