Omar Padilla ’07 is an assistant in the Des Moines office of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. But it’s more accurate to describe his job this way: He helps people.
For example, Padilla recently assisted a group of Iowa high school students and their teachers who were heading to Russia, but their passports were lost in the mail. He helped track down the passports in less than two days, during a weekend when most offices are closed, and the group left on time.
“I enjoy community service, and that’s really what I see the job as,” he says. “It has a political component to it, but I don’t really care about that side of it. The part that I really enjoy is helping people.”
Born in the United States, Padilla spent much of his childhood in Guatemala. He arrived in Iowa at the age of 15, not knowing much English. He now speaks fluently.
“I worked very hard at it,” he says.
Coming to Iowa, he says, changed his life.
“I would have made the worst Guatemalan ever,” Padilla says, laughing. “I don’t enjoy manual labor. Everything my family has is because of Iowa. So if I can give back to Iowa and pay my bills doing it, that’s really all I’m asking for.”
As for Simpson, Padilla refers to a quote from George Washington Carver, who once said, “At Simpson, the kind of people there made me believe that I was a human being.”
“At Simpson, I grew into my own,” Padilla says. “I started organizing groups and began working on diversity issues. That really fulfilled what I wanted to do.
“Life at Simpson wasn’t a cakewalk. There were tough days, and there were issues that I wish Simpson would have tackled more. But I learned that I can’t fix everything. All I can do is what I can.”
Which is exactly what he’s doing now. Padilla has worked for Harkin’s office for almost three years. His areas of expertise include immigration, passports and visas, Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance.
“I don’t think you can ever become an expert at navigating federal agencies, but I feel much more comfortable and helpful than I did when I started,” he says.
At Simpson, Padilla helped organize the first March to End the Isms, which has become an annual event.
“At Simpson, I learned what I wanted to do,” he says. “I really became myself.”
Padilla is married to a Simpson graduate, Rebecca Peterson Padilla ’07, who works as a therapist at Orchard Place in Des Moines. The couple recently bought a house in Beaverdale.
“The American dream,” he says. “For me, it happened.”