Mr. Nieto was born and raised in Houston, Texas. His mother was the first Latina to have been appointed a park director with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. His father worked 24-hour shifts at a local compress company, later joining his wife in the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, as a full-time recreation center director.
Growing up, Mr. Nieto was intrigued by the idea that creative applications of public services, like parks and recreation, could be a means through which to improve the social trajectory of an entire community – something his parents achieved through their jobs. “They may not have understood the term social entrepreneurship back then,” he said of his parents in an NHI Magazine article, “but the work they performed was classic to our modern understanding of this concept.”
He attended the University of Houston on a basketball scholarship and later transferred to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Education, with a specialization in Special Education. He returned to the University of Houston to complete his master’s studies in Special Education.
After a period of working in education and government (at the state and local levels), the ideas that began with his parents’ achievements formed themselves into a theory of how to impact social norms within the Hispanic community: engage Latino youth with learning experiences that would further their intellectual development, prepare them for college, and guide them to value and appreciate the importance of becoming engaged citizens in community life.
The elements of this approach ultimately evolved into the founding principles of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI), which he launched in 1979. Today, NHI has made its mark as a modern, forward-looking, community, social entrepreneurial organization, each year enrolling students in its programs who come from as many as 18 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and three Latin American countries.
Of more than 100,000 participants who have attended NHI’s leadership programs, 98% have enrolled in college, 90% have graduated, and 67%, or more, have earned advanced degrees.
NHI also supports HSF’s endeavors, and helps syndicate information about the Fund’s scholarships, events, and programs, throughout the Latino community.
Mr. Nieto has won many awards and accolades. His alma mater, Southwestern University, where he serves as a trustee, has recognized his achievements with both a Citation of Merit award and a Distinguished Alumnus award. He has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Texas Wesleyan University and Austin College.