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policy expert


Policy Expert

Changing lives one policy at a time

Vanessa Fuentes is a first generation college graduate with a degree in Public Relations from The University of Texas at Austin. She has dedicated her career to public service and has been nationally recognized for her innovative work in advocacy and grassroots organizing. Vanessa worked at the Texas State Capitol on criminal justice reform during the 83th Legislative Session. She has spent the last six years working for the American Heart Association focused on mobilizing and empowering the everyday Texan to engage in the policymaking process and pass lifesaving policies that make communities healthier and safer. 

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  • 6 years as a community organizer passing health policy at the local, state, and federal levels at national nonprofit

  • 2 years working on criminal justice reform and constituent relations within state government 

  • 1-year organizing communities to participate in our democracy through democratic campaigns 

  • 2 years working in the private sector



Over a decade of service in community leadership


Vanessa has fought for equality for women and education opportunities for all. Vanessa served as the President of the Young Women’s Alliance, an Austin-based organization dedicated to empowering the next generation of women leaders in Austin. Vanessa has also served on the statewide board of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, where she fought to advance Latinas in civic and professional life and to end the pay wage gap. Passionate about education, Vanessa stepped up to lead the first organized Get Out the Vote effort in support of the 2019 Del Valle ISD School Bond.

Vanessa Fuentes leadership austin texas
Vanessa Fuentes leadership in Austin Texas


  • President of the Young Women’s Alliance, 2016-2017

  • Executive Board Member of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, 2015-2019

  • Member of the Austin Community Foundation's Women's Fund, 2018-2019

  • Community Liaison Officer with the Del Valle Community Coalition, 2020

  • Founding Member of the South East Austin Democratic Alliance, 2019

  • Past Co-Chair of the Diversity & Outreach Committee at the Travis County Democratic Party, 2019-2020 

  • President of the Get Out the Vote effort in support of the Del Valle ISD School Bond, 2019

  • Board Member of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 2016-2019

  • Chair of Con Mi MADRE charity gala, 2016

  • Hispanic Austin Leadership graduate, 2020

  • Austin CityWorks Academy, 2018

  • AISD UpClose Graduate, 2018

  • Latino Center for Leadership Development - Leadership Academy graduate, 2018

  • Leadership Austin EMERGE graduate, 2011


Vanessa Fuentes volunteering in Austin, Texas

community advocate

Advocating for healthier lives and justice


Vanessa is a longtime advocate for improving access to health care and improving the quality of life for communities across Austin. She has testified before government officials demanding transparency and equity in services. Vanessa has organized her community in support of better transportation options, improved education opportunities, racial justice, and ensuring her community gets its fair share of resources.


Vanessa is passionate about taking on the status quo of stark imbalances in the pursuit of food justice, economic justice, racial justice, and health justice.


  • Volunteer organizer of the first PPE distribution drives in Dove Springs and Del Valle

  • Member of the Central Health Southeast Travis County Advisory Group

  • Volunteer Chair with Texas Book Festival

  • Member of the Junior League of Austin 

  • Volunteer with Coats for Kids and Food in Tummies programs

  • Volunteer with Con Mi MADRE

  • Volunteer with Dress for Success

  • Member of Dove Springs Proud and Dove Springs Community Group

  • Central Texas Food Bank Volunteer

  • Member of the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan Contact Team 

  • Advocated in opposition to the Texas Landfill expansion in Southeast Austin 

  • Advocate for the development of a grocery store in Del Valle 

  • Advocate for the preservation of Palm School, a historic Mexican-American School in Austin


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professional & community honors

Vanessa has been recognized for her outstanding dedication both in the community and at work.


  • Finalist for the "Latina Industry Leaders" Awards presented by the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 2020

  • HABLA con Orgullo Award Nominee - Latina Community Leader, 2019

  • GAHCC - Volunteer of the Year Award, 2019

  • Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) – New Leader Honoree, 2018

  • American Heart Association - National Grassroots Innovation Award, 2016-2017

  • American Heart Association - Award of Excellence in Mission Related Initiatives, 2016-2017

  • Austin Young Chamber of Commerce – Changemaker Nominee, 2016

  • Young Hispanic Professionals Association of Austin, Distinguished Young Leader, 2015

  • American Heart Association - Affiliate-Wide Cass Wheeler Collaboration Award, 2015-2016

  • American Heart Association - SouthWest Affiliate Newcomer of the Year Award, 2014-2015

  • American Heart Association - Outstanding Achievement in Advocacy, 2014-2015

  • Young Women’s Alliance - Member of the Year Award, 2013

         VANESSA's story


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I’m a proud Southeast Austinite and an experienced community leader on education, health equity, and transportation.


I was raised by a Mexican immigrant mother and military veteran father from El Paso. My mom and dad taught me and my siblings the importance of education as an opportunity equalizer and raised me with the values of hard work and service to the community. Like many families in District 2, my parents wanted to raise us in a safe and healthy neighborhood, where I was able to ride my bike to school and embark on the American dream.

My college diploma hangs in the living room of my proud parents. I’m a first-generation college graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. Hook ‘em!


I’ve spent my entire career focused on community engagement, digital organizing, policy, and motivating diverse groups of people to share a mutual vision and achieve common goals.


For the past five years, I’ve worked as a director at the American Heart Association, the nation’s largest volunteer-led health organization, dedicated to improving and saving lives. I joined the fight against heart disease and stroke and have mobilized hundreds of advocates throughout the Central Texas region to advocate for improved access to healthy food, demand quality health care, and reduce health disparities.


It wasn’t always easy. We took on Big Tobacco and because of our army of advocates, we made a tangible impact on building healthier communities across the region. I firmly believe that your zip code shouldn’t determine your health or how long you live. That’s why one of my top priorities will be addressing health equity in Austin.

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At every opportunity, I’ve championed, invested, and advocated for social justice issues in Austin spanning the range of criminal justice, public education, community, transportation, and women’s empowerment.


From the state capitol to city hall to the boardroom, I’ve always stood on the side of the underrepresented and most vulnerable communities in the fight for equity. I’m committed to amplifying the voices of my community in this critical moment of change in Austin.

vanessa fuentes husban curtis smith dog axel the bulldog austin texas

Vanessa is a newlywed, married to Curtis Smith, whom she met while working at the Texas Capitol. Both are proud parents to Axel the Bulldog, rescued from the Austin Bulldog Shelter.

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