Community Stories

ShelterTech Community Stories Ch. 1: Remembering Aaron Mendez

August 10, 2020 - ShelterTech
Illustration By: Cindy Niu, @cindydrawsthings
Illustration By: Cindy Niu, @cindydrawsthings

ShelterTech Community Stories is a collection of stories highlighting the lives of our Community Representatives, the people inspiring the work of ShelterTech. More information about this initiative is available here.

For our inaugural entry, we are spotlighting Aaron Mendez. Aaron is the reason why our Community Representative (CR) program is so robust today. An influencer in his community, he quickly became one of our go-to advisors on everything from new product ideas to community partnerships to implementing Wi-Fi in shelters. Aaron passed away in June 2020, but his contributions continue to influence ShelterTech and the people behind it.

Below we have compiled a few anecdotes and remembrances to spotlight Aaron’s vivacity, sagacity, and magnanimity — qualities that made him integral to our community.

Aaron guiding volunteers through the data verification process at a Datathon event
Aaron guiding volunteers through the data verification process at a Datathon event


“Aaron was truly an unforgettable person. He made a great first impression on me! Talk about an amazing presence!

“Aaron had such a larger than life personality and made such an impact on anyone he encountered in life. He always smiled with his eyes, even when he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear. I’m naturally a very shy person and would stand around awkwardly before ShelterTech datathons would start. Aaron had such power for making people feel seen. He never failed to make me feel welcome, often nudging at me to come over and ask if I had gotten to try any of the snacks! He was so genuine during our conversations, always giving direct eye contact and his full attention.

“I just loved the way he talked. He made the most minute details of his day sound so exciting! His recollections were always so passionate and full of life, his eyes and smile would just get bigger and bigger until he erupted into laughter.

“I was always so blown away at his sharp memory. I would come back to ShelterTech again after months and he would still call me out by name and remember what I had mentioned during our last conversation. He would always ask me if I had brought along my best friend to the session and whether I had read his book recommendations (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age).

“Aaron has never failed to make me feel special and remembered. I hope he knows that I will also feel the same towards him. He is one of a kind and will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Aaron waves to the camera at a ShelterTech gathering
Aaron waves to the camera at a ShelterTech gathering


“Whilst on vacation in San Francisco this time last year, I discovered ShelterTech and attended my first datathon, where I had the pleasure to meet Aaron, who went out of his way to make me feel welcome. We exchanged details and have been ‘pen friends’ ever since, emailing and texting back and forth every few days.

“When I visited San Francisco again in August last year, he offered to come to pick me up from the airport, and afterward, gave me a guided tour of Civic Center and Tenderloin, stopping to chat with various people along the way. He was so keen to teach me about the work that ShelterTech does, and about the homelessness situation in San Francisco. He took me to Coalition on Homeless and introduced me to the Street Sheet team, and later to a Lava Mae event in Civic Center. He also invited me along to a few Code for America and ShelterTech meetings with him. He was such a terrific ambassador. Wherever he went, Aaron always lit up the room with his smile and warmth.

“During my time in San Francisco, we spent a lot of time together, often going on long ‘walk’n’talks’ up and down every street discussing all manner of things for hours on end, from his old business ventures (we both had a background in real estate) to politics, and books. Aaron was such an intelligent, thoughtful person, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He also talked proudly about his sons and spoke fondly whenever he reminisced about all the girls he ever knew….

“I was due to visit San Francisco again in May 2020. Aaron and I had planned so many cool things to do together whilst I was there. For his birthday last month, he wanted to take me to his favorite church, and for my birthday a few days ago, he had planned that we would go ‘camping’ in Golden Gate Park to show me how the other half live….

“I only knew Aaron for just once a year, but he made such a huge impact on my life that will carry me forward. He will be sorely missed.”

Aaron regales the ShelterTech team with one of his stories
Aaron regales the ShelterTech team with one of his stories


“The first time I sat down to chat with Aaron, he told me a story about this man who was outside his SRO [single room occupancy] screaming obscenities at people day in and day out. Aaron decided to ask the man why he was screaming. At first, the man kept shouting but eventually, he told Aaron he was in intense pain and showed him an extremely infected foot. Aaron said the sight and smell almost knocked him off his feet. Undeterred, Aaron knew of a free clinic nearby and walked with the man to get his foot cared for while the man shouted and screamed the whole way. All I could say was, ‘Wow.’

“For me, it was easy to work on ShelterTech from the comfort of my office or to sit side-by-side with a CR during a datathon, but at that moment I realized I hadn’t committed to really helping people the way Aaron had committed to helping me and ShelterTech or the man on the street that day. Aaron went on, ‘If I had ignored him he’d still be out there screaming at people and getting worse. All I had to do was ask him what was wrong, be patient, be friendly, and listen…’

“I will remember Aaron as a friend, an incredible community builder, an epic storyteller, and the heart of our CR program. Thank you, Aaron, I’ll miss you.”

Additional Articles

If you want to learn more about Aaron’s life, we encourage you to check out some amazing articles created by founding members of ShelterTech.

Intergenerational Memory Book Chapter 1 — Loneliness: The Story of Aaron Mendez, a Native-American social behavioral scientist

Always Be Prepared

About ShelterTech

ShelterTech is a technology-focused non-profit dedicated to helping people who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Our goal is to make it easier for this community to connect with resources that can help them address their challenges, become permanently housed, and on track to live happy and productive lives. ShelterTech believes everyone has the right to be connected, which has become a necessity in today’s world. Through continuous outreach and collaboration, we are committed to ensuring that our solutions are built by the community for the community.