We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole Mercado and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nicole, what role has risk played in your life or career?
My dad used to always tell me, “If you didn’t have it a day before, then a day after, it doesn’t matter.”, and that really shaped how I view risk and taking chances in life and my career. Risks are all opportunities, whether it be taking a chance on a new fundraising idea, making a major gift ask to a donor, even going for a promotion or next position professionally. I have been faced with each of those scenarios throughout my career, and I looked at each one as a chance to do something great. I always try to approach all things in life with the mindset of “Does the reward of the success, or positive outcome outweigh the risk of hearing a no or failing?”, and usually the answer is yes. Sure, there have definitely been failures along the way, but they have all been opportunities to learn from and grow!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a product of the generosity of a community, and from an early age, I’ve always enjoyed giving back because I experienced firsthand the impact and importance of it. Growing up, my family didn’t have much – we were on food stamps, we only shopped at thrift stores for school clothes because that was the best we could do. It wasn’t uncommon to come home to the lights or water being shut off by the utility companies. These experiences shaped me and continue to drive me in the work I do each and every day.
It wasn’t until my early 20s that I learned you can make a career out of giving back. My father had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2008, a month after my 23rd birthday. I started researching his disease and came across the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I started to volunteer with them while taking my dad to treatments, and a few short months later had an opportunity to begin working with them as a Campaign Coordinator. I had no professional nonprofit experience, but I had a passion for the work. I will forever be grateful for them taking a chance on me and opening the door to the most amazing career. I can’t believe I’m going on my 13th year in nonprofit! I joined Little Smiles three years ago as the executive director, and I couldn’t be prouder.
I think one of the things that sets me apart and gives me a unique perspective is that I have been on the other side of our mission. At Little Smiles, we work with 32 facilities including hospitals, shelters, law enforcement agencies, and we host a huge annual toy drive that brings in about 10,000 toys each year for local children. As a child, my brother and I benefitted from local toy drives and angel trees each Christmas. I have experienced what it’s like to not have holiday decorations or gifts, or even a Thanksgiving meal. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time in hospitals between my father’s lymphoma and my mother’s own cancer journey (she was diagnosed a few years after my dad). I know what it’s like to spend hours and hours in a hospital wishing you had a distraction or even some comfort food. While my story hasn’t always been easy, it has given me a deep appreciation for being able to bring such happy and fun-filled moments to those we serve.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One of the things I love most about South Florida is that there is always something great to do! When I’m in Miami, I love exploring breweries and restaurants in Wynwood and checking out the Frost Science Museum and Aquarium – the oculus is amazing! One of my favorite spots in the entire world is Vizcaya. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. Our family wasn’t in the position to go on vacations, so we would take day trips to Vizcaya and explore the house and gardens. I’ve been there probably 50-60 times over the past 30+ years, and I still enjoy it as much as the first time!
If you find yourself around Palm Beach, I love the Flager Museum and window shopping on Worth Avenue. There is a great little hidden gem of scenery at the Witch’s Wall, and dinner at Table 26 or Grato is always a good idea!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Every Little Smiles supporter. Between our board members, staff, volunteers, donors, and sponsors to the children, nurses, and law enforcement officers we have the honor of serving, they inspire me each day to do the best I can for our organization and mission!