FRIDAY | OCTOBER 31, 2014

SUBSCRIBE TO WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Follow Us

Chavez Day Heroes: 50 People Making Grassroots Progress

Cesar Chavez day edition
|


Tirso Moreno – A Farmworker who ‘Never Left’ his Roots

Tirso Moreno

Hero’s name: Tirso Moreno

Home city: Apopka, Fla.

Organization affiliation: Farmworker Association of Florida

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Tirso Moreno was born in Mexico and came to this country in 1971 with his family to do farm work. From 1971 to 1982, he migrated from Florida to Michigan, harvesting citrus and apples. After working as an organizer for the United Farm Workers in 1983, he and several other farmworkers in Central Florida initiated the Farmworker Association. Tirso has served as the General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association since its inception.

Under his leadership these last 30 years, the Farmworker Association has grown from a local organization to a statewide one with more than 10,000 members. Tirso has dedicated his life to the betterment of living and working conditions for farmworkers and to the rights of immigrants.

He has helped to start other organizations and networks that benefit farmworkers, and he has served on the boards of many organizations that support workers’ and immigrants’ rights. He works tirelessly, often seven days a week, and travels many miles to strengthen communities and the organization. Tirso is widely recognized as a strong, proud farmworker leader who has never left his farmworker roots.”

Honored by: Holly Baker of Farmworker Association of Florida

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is not only struggling to have the means to support the basic needs of your family. Poverty is living each day feeling and knowing that you, unjustly, are judged by others, and that you, unfairly, don’t have an equal voice. Poverty = fighting for dignity. Poverty = imposed second-class citizenship. Poverty = powerlessness.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I have worked at the Farmworker Association of Florida for 16 years and do my best to use my time and skills to benefit farmworkers who do the back-breaking work that is critical to the survival of us all. I’ve been involved with Florida farmworker communities – as a volunteer and AmeriCorps member and FWAF employee.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Rosalva Nava – A Mother and ‘Inspiration’ in Chicago

Rosalva Nava

Hero’s name: Rosalva Nava

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) / POWER-PAC

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Rosalva Nava, a low-income mother of four from the West Town community in Chicago. She didn’t always believe she had the power to make change. Fifteen years ago, hopeless and frightened as a victim of domestic violence, she was moments away from taking her own life, but when her daughter walked in on her, she was reminded that she had something – or someone – to live for.

That very day, she saw a flyer her daughter had brought home from school about parent leadership training offered through a partnership between Community Organizing and Family Issues and West Town Leadership United. She decided to attend. Through the training, Rosalva has become a strong advocate through her organization, POWER-PAC, for low-income parents across the city, state and nation.

She also has become a COFI parent peer trainer – training hundreds of low-income mothers to believe in themselves, to not to be afraid of change, to set personal goals and to dream big. Through this work, Rosalva has shared her inspiring personal story with hundreds of moms.

And – as a strong parent leader working on a broad range of campaigns she is working to reverse the cycle of poverty that draws in too many families:

- Last past March, as chair of the COFI/POWER-PAC Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign committee, Rosalva traveled to Springfield to speak out on successful legislation that now allows low-income families to save money for their children’s college and future without the risk of losing public benefits.

‘When I lost my job and my life was falling apart, I went in to apply for public benefits and they told me that I first had to spend down my children’s college savings. It was devastating, but I did it. Now, that will never happen to another mother in Illinois.’

- This December, Rosalva did something she never thought she would do. She testified in the U.S. Congress at a Senate hearing on the impact of restorative justice work in keeping young people of color in schools. For the past three years, she has led ‘Peace Circles’ with young people as a Peacemaker at her local high school.

- And, last year, she fought for and won the return of recess to her children’s school, and, with other mothers at COFI, won the return of recess citywide for all 266,000 Chicago Public elementary and middle school students.

- For the past five summers, to help families get their children off to a strong start, Rosalva also has participated as a Head Start Ambassador, knocking on thousands of doors to reach low-income Latino immigrant and African-American families about the importance of early learning and the availability of Head Start and other quality early education programs.

Rosalva is an inspiration to both her peers and the hundreds of parents she’s touched over the years.”

Honored by: Patricia Islas of Community Organizing and Family Issues

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is a lack of financial resources but not a lack of other assets. Rosalva’s work is characterized by her focus on finding and building on the strengths and assets of low-income women fighting for the rights of their children and their families.”

How does Rosalva work for community justice?

“Rosalva’s work for justice in the community hits on many areas. She is co-chair of the Stepping Out of Poverty committee, working to end public policy disincentives for saving and building financial assets and to increase the minimum wage and address financial security for low-income families.

She is a Peacemaker at Wells High School where she works with young people to keep them in high school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline. And she is a leader working to increase access for low-income infants and toddlers to quality early learning opportunities.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Geraldean Matthew – A Farmworker, ‘Indomitable Spirit’

Geraldean Matthew

Hero’s name: Geraldean Matthew

Home city: Apopka, Fla.

Organization affiliation: Farmworker Association of Florida

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Geraldean Matthew grew up an African American farmworker in the days when there were virtually no regulations to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure, when the most toxic (now banned) pesticides were being used and in the days before the Civil Rights Act was passed. When she was young, she helped care for younger children while their families worked in the fields.

Her mother did not put much value on education. She needed another pair of hands in the fields in order to make enough money to live. Geraldean was one of the fastest harvesters, even when she was young. Geraldean told me stories of her life – how they would have to sleep in chicken coops or horse stables as they traveled the seasons to pick crops. She talked about the discrimination she experienced as a young girl, changing schools all the time as they moved with the seasons. She described some of the harsh and even unspeakable conditions in some of the labor camps where the farmworkers were housed, where there would be abuse and exploitation that left a mark on her young mind.

As a young adult, Geraldean was determined to see that her children did get an education, as she worked in the fields and raised her six kids, all of whom went on to graduate high school. One who went on to go to college. Her stories are endless and are an important insight into what farmworkers at that time experienced and still do. When I met Geraldean, almost 18 years ago, she was speaking out about the injustices against farmworkers and organizing her community for social change. She worked endless hours, traveling to Tallahassee to speak to the legislators, outreaching to her community, making presentations to churches and youth groups, representing her community at national conferences and meetings and training farmworkers about their rights and protections.

She was not afraid to go into places where others ‘feared to tread’ – places that others would call dangerous and even risky. She worked for the Farmworker Association of Florida for close to two decades and even more, if you include the time she was volunteering.

I have seen her speak to groups of educators, academics, churches and students. When she leaves, people never forget her and what she had to say. There have been times when she leaves a room and there is not a dry eye because she has moved everyone so deeply.

Geraldean does ‘Lake Apopka Toxic Tours’ with student groups. She would be doing that now, except that the dialysis that she goes to three times a week often leaves her weak and tired. At 63 years old, she has congestive heart failure, Lupus and kidney failure, which could be related to her years of chronic exposure to highly toxic pesticides in the fields as crop dusters overhead sprayed pesticides on the workers in the fields.

But, she has an indomitable spirit. She spoke up at our recent candidates’ forum to say that there was little justice in this community. The candidates had to listen because they knew what she said was right. Geraldean is outspoken, fearless, determined, strong. She tells it like it is without worrying if people will like her or not. She speaks truth to power. And, I admire her for it.

She is my role model and one of my heroes. She cares about her community and has been undaunted in working to make things better and not just for African Americans but for Hispanic and Haitian farmworkers. She has fought for immigration reform. She sees the bigger picture and works unselfishly to make positive change. That translates to her personal life, too, as she is always helping people, even at times when she cannot afford it.

Geraldean has not let the past make her bitter or hateful. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. I have learned so much from her. I hope to be more like her.”

Honored by: Jeannie Economos of Farmworker Association of Florida

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I see poverty not as a lack of material goods but as a lack of strength of spirit. I know people who have few amenities but who are rich in spirit and who have enriched my life greatly. Our consumer society makes us think that we have to have things to have a better life. I think we need stronger community and less things, more compassion and less greed, more understanding and less technology and ‘time-saving’ devices.

Poverty should be defined as the strength of your community and the degree of happiness, satisfaction and ‘connectedness’ of community members.”

How do you work for community justice?

“By training, informing, empowering, organizing and defending farmworkers and immigrants through different avenues, including being in the community daily and hoping to earn the respect and confidence of community members.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Emmanuel Martinez – Offering Support to Hotel Workers

Emmanuel Martinez

Hero’s name: Emmanuel Martinez

Home city: Phoenix

Organization affiliation: Unite HERE!

Why this person is a Community Hero: 

“Emmanuel is driven to help hotel workers form a union at their workplace – housekeepers who are not much different than his mother. He was brought to the U.S. when he was young. But he fought his way through college, even after anti-immigrant laws made his tuition even more expensive. He survived on his passion and $2 deals at Taco Bell. He graduated and dove right back into his community as a lead organizer on the ‘Adios Arpaio’ campaign, a historic voter registration drive that registered 34,000 new voters – more than has been done in one year since the days of Cesar Chavez.”

Honored by: Carah Campini of Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Jesus Eusebio-Perez – Empowering Youth to Succeed

Jesus Eusebio-Perez, left, and a friend work to register voters.

Hero’s name: Jesus Eusebio-Perez

Home city: Baltimore

Organization affiliation: Johns Hopkins University / Casa de Maryland

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Jesus is a research assistant on a male health community project at John Hopkins University. He leads communication with the Latino community in Baltimore.

He has been an avid volunteer at Casa de Maryland since high school and serves as a young adult leader bringing resources, information and support for Latino adolescents throughout Baltimore. Jesus has a passion for service and a love for family. He helps young people discover their leadership qualities and helps to empower them to succeed. He is a wonderful role model in the East Baltimore community.”

Honored by: Katrina L. Brooks

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“The definition of poverty is not limited to the lack of material resources. More and more poverty has become a tool used in many ‘systems’ to keep people ignorant of their rights and the knowledge they need to succeed.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I work for justice in my community by bringing the community to the table as a decision maker and calling the community to action on issues such as minimum wage, stopping deportation of families and higher education access. I help young people identify allies and supports that will help them realize their dreams and goals. We all need a ‘Dream Team.’

No one gets anywhere in life alone.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Gabriel Velasquez – A ‘Servant Leader’ in the Community

Gabriel Velasquez

Hero’s name: Gabriel Velasquez

Home city: San Antonio, Texas

Organization affiliation: Inner City Advocates

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Gabriel Velasquez is an urban planner by trade, receiving his Bachelor’s of Science degree in architecture from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2001. Most importantly, Gabriel has been a servant leader in our community for over 20 years.

For the past eight years Gabriel has served as the vice-president of the Cesar E. Chavez Legacy and Education fund here in San Antonio. Through this fund, Gabriel has helped young individuals with financial support for their pursuit of a college degree. Gabriel has demonstrated community leadership through his volunteer commitments as the president of the Avenida Guadalupe Association, 4013 precinct chair for the Bexar County Democratic Party and the San Antonio Civil and Human Rights Coalition.

He has also been instrumental in the development of Inner City Advocates affiliated with Judge Albert Pena Jr. In this capacity, he serves as the march coordinator of the annual Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice, sponsor of the anti-SB 9 immigration pilgrimage and the Dia de la Raza March here in San Antonio. He has also worked with the Campaign for American Children and Families in Chicago, Illinois as a Texas organizer – campaign affiliate.

He assisted with the Children’s March on Washington and served as an organizer for the May Day March in Chicago, coordinated by Centro Sin Fronteras – Familia Latina Unidad. Gabriel’s dedication to our community has been and continues to be an inspiration for many of our youth and young activists.”

Honored by: Ramon Vasquez

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is the the void of resources and tools to be able to create meaningful change in one’s own life or community.”

How do you work for community justice?

“Our approach to justice work begins by reminding the community members that we serve that each of them has a sacred purpose that Creator sent them here to fulfill and that nothing in their environment, family or personal history is so insurmountable that they cannot achieve that purpose.

Then, we bring light to the fact that the individual is in an unequal state due to the history of our people, although their human dignity gives them the right to flourish like any other person regardless of their economic class, ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation.

Through our educational and advocacy work, we reveal to them the tools that they already have to adapt and survive in whatever challenge they face, whether in their personal or family lives or in the community at large.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Danna Johnson – Building Bridges in a 1,300-Person Town

Danna Johnson

Hero’s name: Danna Johnson

Home city: Vardaman, Miss.

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“A native of Honduras, Danna teaches English to Hispanics, connecting them to resources and their Anglo neighbors in this small community, the ‘Sweet Potato Capital of the World.’

The classes are scheduled around the sweet potato growing season. Last year’s graduates included an elderly man who had lived in Vardaman over 25 years and had never learned any English. It was wonderful to talk with him in English; he was so proud! She also invited Anglos from her town to join the class for a shared meal and some Spanish lessons, bridging the two cultures.

She also secured donations of sewing machines and fabric so women could learn to sew. They used their new-found skill to make aprons, scarves and other items to be sold in a local business. One of the women who learned to sew was able to find full-time work in one of the furniture plants.

Danna also serves Hispanic families as a liaison with the school. Its population is nearly half Hispanic and, as of last year, they had no staff members who spoke Spanish. She also quietly provides transportation and translation help to families who need help.

Another graduate of our leadership training, a young social work student and native of Mexico, is now working with Danna to help these families. The school system has nearly co-opted her English lessons. This year’s classes are held at the local high school and the Spanish teacher is leading them.

I think that’s because Danna set the bar last year with the classes she started. The school simply copied a good thing. Danna is not a self promoter. She is just a quiet community leader who sees problems or needs and takes them on. She is amazing.”

Note: This text portion has been updated since it was first posted.

Honored by: Sally Gray of Parents for Public Schools

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is resourcefulness in the face of need. It is marshaling one’s skills to solve a problem.”

How do you work for community justice?

“Danna connects Hispanic families to resources in and beyond their community. She tries to build bridges between the White and Hispanic communities who, despite living side by side, are sometimes worlds apart – their own churches, their own stores and restaurants, their own languages.

She ‘strives for justice and peace and respects the dignity of every human being.’”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Curtis Mangrum – Protecting the Sanctity of the Ballot

Curtis Mangrum

Hero’s name: Curtis Mangrum

Home city: Gould, Ark.

Organization affiliation: Gould Citizens Advisory Council

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Curtis has lived in Gould most of his life and seen a lot of things change. Some of those changes have been bad for the city, as jobs have moved away and development has slowed. But through his leadership with the Gould Citizens Advisory Council (GCAC), the city has started to see some major positive changes over the past decade. And it goes beyond just Gould: all of South Arkansas has a new energy around it and it’s having an impact on the state as a whole.

When Curtis started out, he was just an average citizen who was tired of sitting by and watching ineffective leaders make poor decisions that hurt the community. He got involved with GCAC and eventually took a leadership role, helping to organize residents to make an impact in Gould.

They’ve seen some major problems with elections in south Arkansas. Ballot boxes have disappeared, voters have been intimidated and people took pictures of others while they were voting. It’s been a mess. Curtis and other members of GCAC, such as political awareness chair William El-Amin, have been passionate about this issue for many years and wanted to see some changes.

GCAC brought in a state election monitor and also provided training for poll workers. On Election Day, people acting improperly were asked to leave, and for the first time the ballot box was locked before the 17-mile trip to the county seat for counting.

This year, a group of folks from the Gould Citizens Advisory Council joined other advocates at the Capitol and talked to legislators about the need to fix these problems statewide. Legislators listened. They passed two new laws, which will increase the number of election monitors and improve training for all poll workers. This was a major victory for progressives in Arkansas. GCAC led the effort to get it done.

Curtis’ leadership and collaboration with local organizers has opened up the door and empowered people to hold elected officials accountable on the local level. Residents have gained experience in reaching out to local politicians and talking about the things they need for their community. They’re able to build a relationship with officials, ask them questions, let them hear the voice of residents.

People are beginning to see how the political process affects their livelihood and the community. They see the need to improve things and so they’re willing to learn how to organize to be effective. They want to bring something of themselves to the larger effort to improve the community. Through organizing, they discover that there’s a lot of value they can bring.

Arkansas needs more of this sort of change on an individual level if we want a sustained progressive movement here. We need more people like Curtis to step up and find out how not only can they be a part of changing things for the better but how they can be the leaders that their communities need to get things moving forward.”

Honored by: Bill Kopsky of Arkansas Public Policy Panel

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“We believe that poverty is more tied to the attitudes and sentiments of residents in a community than it is to the number of material resources. People in the delta have experienced decades of political oppression, economic depression and neglect at the hands of their leaders. Prevalent attitudes hold that nothing can be done to change the situation – that it’s pointless to get involved, that things simply are the way they are.

We believe that helping residents shift those attitudes is ultimately the best way to combat poverty. We’ve seen it happen. In Gould, the city was bankrupt and services were on the brink of being shutdown. Residents worked to reach out to the community, bring more people into their efforts, showing them that change was possible. Slowly but surely, they eventually organized to elect new leadership that was able to work with the IRS, pay off debts, and secure new funds for the city.

Even though many of the people still live under the ‘poverty line’ as defined by the lack of resources, they have discovered the potential within themselves to change their situation and to work together as a community to help everyone rise together.”

How do you work for community justice?

“The Arkansas Public Policy Panel is dedicated to achieving social and economic justice by organizing citizen groups around the state, educating and supporting them to be more effective and powerful and linking them with one another in coalitions and networks. The Panel seeks to bring balance to the public policy process in Arkansas. Started by moms of school children who worked across racial and religious lines to desegregate Arkansas schools, the Panel maintains a commitment to building meaningful relationships and collaboration across diverse lines to make Arkansas better.

We use a nontraditional organizing model focused on local self-autonomy, relationships, flexibility, strategic planning and networking across issues and geography. We are invited into communities where we help residents develop the tools to realize their vision of social justice, economic prosperity, accountable government and improved quality of life.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Xochitl Bervera – A ‘Movement Builder’ in the South

Xochitl Bervera

Hero’s name: Xochitl Bervera

Home city: Atlanta

Organization affiliation: Racial Justice Action Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Xochitl is a queer, Chicana/Latina organizer, lawyer, educator and movement builder. She is the director of the Racial Justice Action Center, a vibrant, multiracial organizing and training institute working to build the grassroots leadership and power of communities of color, and low-income communities in order to fight for – and win – political and social transformation in Georgia and the South.

She has over 15 years of experience in grassroots organizing, media and policy advocacy, and training and technical assistance, mostly focused on ending criminalization in Black and Latino communities. Xochitl has experience organizing for community safety and against over-criminalization in diverse communities in California, New York, Louisiana, and Georgia.

Her past experience includes co-directing Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) a statewide, membership-based organization building the power of the parents of incarcerated youth in Louisiana to fight for justice for their children and families; and co-founding and directing Safe Streets/Strong Communities, an organization born post-Katrina, dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system of New Orleans. Prior to this, Xochitl was a Soros Justice Fellow working with Grassroots Leadership to implement southern strategies for radical criminal justice reform by linking community organizing and the law. She has also worked as a juvenile defender in the Bronx and a media strategist with We Interrupt This Message.”

Honored by: Emma French of Georgia STAND-UP

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I would define poverty as the undermining of an individual or community’s autonomy and power stemming from the unequal distribution of a community’s (or country’s, or the world’s) resources.”

How do you work for community justice?

“Georgia STAND-UP – a ‘Think & Act Tank for Working Communities’ – is an alliance of leaders representing community, faith, academic and labor organizations which organizes and educates communities about issues related to economic development. Our mission is to provide information and resources to help create healthy, livable neighborhoods while respecting the right of existing residents to benefit from the progress and developments taking place within their communities.

With the goal of alleviating poverty and encouraging regional equity through the empowerment of leaders and the inclusion of community benefits, Georgia STAND-UP empowers residents to ensure economic development meets the needs of their neighborhoods and uses community benefits agreements and policies to assist communities, developers and redevelopment agencies in working together to create successful development projects.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Jesus Martinez – Assisting Youth in Securing Opportunities

Jesus Martinez

Hero’s name: Jesus Martinez, PhD

Home city: Fresno, Calif.

Organization affiliation: Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Dr. Martinez is the coordinator of Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s regional project to assist Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). They are eligible immigrants residing in California’s Central Valley and he helps them become informed about the initiative and to apply successfully.

The project includes the coordination of activities by community partners, the establishment of collaborative relations with a much broader set of educational institutions, community service agencies, private attorneys and other stakeholders interested in promoting the integration of immigrants. The collaboration has included the development of training opportunities for members of a regional network. The project has organized multiple workshops in Fresno and nearby counties since it was launched in January 2013.”

Honored by: Hugo Morales

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is when a family does not have access the resources to stay healthy. This includes the ability to eat healthy foods, having access to adequate housing, being free from the fear of violence, such as actions from ICE.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I work for justice in my community by leading a nonprofit that provides multimedia platforms in the U.S. and Mexico for the poor and working poor to express themselves and have a conversation about solution(s) to their challenges. I learn about opportunities and talk directly to policymakers that make decisions that impact the lives of families.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Hara Jonathon – Helping Native Americans in Chicago

Hara Jonathon

Hero’s name: Maureen “Hara” Jonathon

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: American Indian Center of Chicago

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Raised on a Seneca Indian Reservation in New York state, Maureen ‘Hara’ Jonathon has dedicated her life to helping Native Americans. Through the years, she’s helped children, youth and adults at Chicago’s American Indian Center. As the part-time social services coordinator, she oversees the food pantry, clothing and household goods closet, monthly flea markets, bingo games and the ‘Hunger Walk.’

Hara volunteers her time to help cook for the weekly elders’ luncheon, holiday feasts, weddings, memorial services, pow-wows and special events. Since she lives near the Center she often opens and closes the building for special events that occur outside of normal business hours. Last week, she opened the building at 4 a.m. It served as a polling place for the city of Chicago elections.

Her boundless energy and service to community make her one of our heroes.”

Honored by: Andrew Johnson of American Indian Center of Chicago

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Toni Hunt Hines – Navigator, Mentor, Community Builder

Toni Hunt Hines

Hero’s name: Toni Hunt Hines

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Toni Hunt Hines is a mother and grandmother and a fourth generation resident of Bayview Hunters Point. She has been a Coleman Advocates parent leader for youth for years and has served on the organization’s board of directors. Toni has participated as a leader in the full spectrum of Coleman education equity and economic justice campaigns and electoral activities. She is particularly effective at event outreach and turnout.

She has extensive and strong relationships with diverse communities throughout San Francisco. This is a tremendous asset to her powerful community building and organizing work.

As the director of the Peer Parent Advocate Program of Hunters Point Family, Toni helps parents navigate the child welfare system. Toni will explain to anyone who asks that child protective services, in her view, has historically targeted poor people, working-class people and people of color. These communities are the most disenfranchised within the larger child welfare system.

Toni works to empower and support parents to assert their rights and access to community resources – all toward the goal of building healthy families and healthy communities. Toni is always seeking to expand the reach and impact of her efforts.

Toni has a particular passion for building bridges across San Francisco’s African American and immigrant Latino communities. Recently, Toni took it upon herself to start her agency’s first Spanish-speaking support group for Latino parents.

She is a champion for the rights and dignity of poor people and is committed to creating as many pathways out of poverty in her community. For example, while hiring people from welfare-to-work programs is not required of her at Hunters Point Family, she has made it a priority to make these hires.

She sees them as significant opportunities for people to shine and to grow their skills and confidence, while building their professional resumes.

Toni also started her own organization – Y Not Unite – in honor of her son who she lost through violent crime. For seven years, her organization has held community events in Bayview to promote peace, support individual and collective healing from the trauma of violence and build unity among residents.”

Honored by: Samantha Liapes of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I like this definition from the World Summit on Social Development in 1995: Poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services. It includes a lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods.

It is also characterized by a lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.

I would also include something in the definition that speaks to the institutional and systemic nature of poverty. Something that counters the myth of poverty as the fault of the poor versus an inevitable aspect of an economic system that promotes income and other inequality and pits people at the lower ranks of society against one another.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Rosa Amalia Garcia – Sharing Her Heart in California

Steve Mason

Hero’s name: Rosa Amalia Garcia

Home city: Novato

Organization affiliation: Canal Youth and Family Council

Why this person is a Community Hero:

From Steve Mason: “Although a resident of Novato, Amalia shares her time, and her heart, here in the Canal Neighborhood of San Rafael attending the monthly Thursday evening Canal Youth and Family Council meetings. She always arrives with food to ensure productive and well-attended planning meetings. She is also present at the Council’s Canal Arts program which offers free arts and craft projects for entire families along with food, music and special events the second Saturday of each month at the Albert J. Boro Community Center.

Amalia comes to us with a caring heart and a passion for children. Not only is she a child care provider for families but she and her husband Carlos are foster parents and are regularly accepting children into their family as one of their own until they are placed with a permanent family. Amalia’s experience in working with children greatly benefits the Canal Youth and Family Council’s program. In addition to providing valuable input to the group in regards to age-appropriate activities, she also supplies logistical insight that allows the group to effectively implement the activity at the Saturday program.

Amalia’s dedication to helping people, especially children, goes far beyond her work as a foster parent and with the Canal Youth and Family Council. With almost 40 years of dedicated service to people in need, she graduated from Grassroots Leadership Academy in 2010. She is a member of many other organizations, including serving as vice president of Lions International in Peru.

Amalia’s eyes light up when it comes to holidays and special events. She regularly takes the lead in researching treats, prizes and goodies for the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Santa visits which the Council provides for the community. It is very important to her that children are divided into the proper age category for the Egg Hunt so that they are safe and have a fair positive memorable experience that will last them a lifetime and that every child walks away with their share of goodies.”

Why this person is a Community Hero:

From Carlos Garcia-Bedoya: “She is a community leader for more than 25 years in USA. Since she was in her native Peru, she has always fought for needy people. She says it’s in her blood.”

Honored by: Steve Mason and Carlos Garcia-Bedoya

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

From Steve Mason: “Correct, poverty is typically defined but what someone does not have. However, one should look at what potential a group or individual could have with a little love and support.”

From Carlos Garcia-Bedoya: “For me poverty is when you ask for help and nobody extended their arms or hands for help you.”

How do you work for community justice?

From Steve Mason: “We work for justice in our community by providing equal opportunities, resources, support and acceptance with active engagement which includes meaningful listening to the true needs of the community. We strive to strengthen, enhance and heal the ever changing web of social, ecological, and economic relationships that make up the city of San Rafael, a community of communities, and the Canal neighborhood.”

From Carlos Garcia-Bedoya: “I’m working as a volunteer in different organizations in my community fighting for civil rights.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Lipo Chanthanasak – Advocating for Environmental Justice

Lipo Chanthanasak

Hero’s name: Lipo Chanthanasak

Home city: Oakland, Calif.

Organization affiliation: Asian Pacific Environmental Network

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Lipo Chanthanasak, who is originally from Northern Laos, has proudly served as a leader with Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) for over a decade. He has worked to reduce carbon pollution and ensure justice for all in his adopted home.

Lipo’s journey from a remote Laotian village to Richmond, California is an American tale of resilience. At 16 years old, Lipo left school to support his family by hunting, farming and fishing with reverence for the land. The Vietnam War led him to join a Guerilla Unit of American forces. After fighting alongside Americans and against the Laotian Communist government, Lipo and his family moved to Richmond.

Fleeing persecution, Lipo came here as a refugee.

America greeted him with opportunity but also hardship. Near his home is Chevron, a massive oil refinery. Residents have voiced concern about a stream of greenhouse gases and respiratory disease. Never one to sit back in the face of injustice, Lipo worked with other Laotian community members to push for regulatory controls on the refinery’s pollution and stopped its expansion.

He joined APEN to champion local renewable energy and jobs that pay what hard work merits.

Today, at 70, Lipo is as fearless a community leader as he was a guerilla fighter for the U.S. and Laos. He strives, as he says, ‘to fight for our rights, equal opportunity and to develop a better community for children and many generations to come.’”

Honored by: Megan Zapanta of Asian Pacific Environmental Network

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Guillermina Castellanos – Dignity for Domestic Workers

Guillermina Castellanos

Hero’s name: Guillermina Castellanos

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: La Colectiva de Mujeres

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Guillermina Castellanos has been a leader of the domestic worker movement for over 20 years. Born in Jalisco, México, she began working as a domestic worker as a child and continued after immigrating to the U.S. in 1985. Her mother was also a domestic worker, working as a house cleaner. Her father was a gardener and farmer.

In 2000, she co-founded, with Rene Saucedo, the Women’s Collective (La Colectiva de Mujeres). As an organizer with La Colectiva, Guille has developed the leadership of hundreds of women, helping them organize for respect and dignity and always with the purpose of building and transforming their lives. In 2013 after years of organizing, Guillermina along with other leaders helped with the passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”

Honored by: Rosana Reyes of National Domestic Workers Alliance

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Robby Bethel – Giving Back to the City Where She Grew Up

Robby Bethel

Hero’s name: Robby Bethel

Home city: New Iberia, La.

Organization affiliation: West End Council of Neighborhood Associations

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Robby Bethel is a resident and community leader in the West End neighborhood of New Iberia. The West End is the oldest part of the city – making up nearly a third of its size – and was once a hub of arts and enterprise. From the low performance scores of area schools to the failure to preserve the rich cultural heritage, the West End has suffered considerable economic, educational and cultural setbacks.

Robby and other local leaders have partnered with Southern Mutual Help Association to restore and rebuild the West End neighborhoods.

Robby grew up during segregation and witnessed her parents constantly advocating for social and economic justice. After turning 18, Robby followed in the example of her parents and joined the Army to serve her community and country. After her service in the military, Robby began working with Habitat for Humanity in Americus, Ga.

It was there that Robby first recognized real poverty. Once she had fulfilled her commitment in Georgia, she was anxious to return to Louisiana, bringing back what she had learned in Americus and abroad.

Upon coming home to New Iberia, Robby expected to find her community much like she had left it – well cared for. However, she experienced a rude awakening when she saw how much had changed over her 10-year absence. Poverty was no longer a phenomenon other places experienced: It was something that existed in her own backyard.

Since her return to the West End, Robby has worked tirelessly for her community, embodying the concept of servant leadership while gracefully navigating the ups and downs of organizing diverse groups. She is secretary and community liaison for the West End Council of Neighborhood Associations, where she spearheaded their informational brochure project, worked with the STEAM initiative and the STEM program to secure funding for the arts, sciences, and math in West End schools and Southern Mutual Help Association.

She has also partnered with the community arts organization, Envision daBerry, Keep America Beautiful, Keep New Iberia Beautiful, as well as the Hopkins Street Revitalization, Inc. Further, she is coordinating a “boots on the ground” effort with state Rep. Terry Landry to involve the community with legislative leadership and education.

Robby’s dedication to the West End is an inspiration to her entire community. Through her efforts, other leaders have found their own voices and have come together to work in one united front.

While some would find the task of rebuilding a third of a city, Robby sees this challenge as an opportunity to give back to the place that raised her. It is people like her that give others the courage to do what is right, even when it is far from easy.”

Honored by: Samantha Stevens of Southern Mutual Help Association

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) sees the lack of access to basic services and capital as the key root of poverty. When families cannot afford to invest in their future and build their personal wealth, they find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. Poverty is not just the absence of things; it is the absence of opportunities.

SMHA has recognized unjust systems and works to connect hard-working people to opportunities they would otherwise not have access. Through our creation of affiliates such as CDFI Southern Mutual Financial Services, the Teche Ridge shared appreciation development or the Gulf Coast Fishers Fund, we are creating solutions to long-standing problems in our community.

Our goal is not only to build strong, rural communities, but also to stop poverty.”

How do you work for community justice?

“SMHA’s mission is rooted not only in our passion for social justice, but also in our deep love for the preservation and care of the rural South. We strive to create an even playing field so that there is access to wealth and opportunity, regardless of class or race. Our mission began in 1969 in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana. The conditions for field workers and sharecroppers were horrendous, yet widely unknown.

However, keeping workers in this sort of poverty was extremely profitable for the land owners. SMHA co-founders Sister Anne Bizalion and Lorna Bourg immediately recognized the dire need for intervention. Facing off against some of the oldest and wealthiest families in New Iberia proved to be a difficult task, requiring great courage and fortitude. Yet, the need was so severe and the systems so unjust, something had to be done.

It has been many years since our early days in the cane fields, but we have never forgotten our roots.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Rudy Ortega Jr. – Native Recognition and Rights in Calif.

Rudy Ortega

Hero’s name: Rudy Ortega Jr.

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Most people don’t understand the plight of American Indians, the only non-immigrant group in the United States. And due to settler colonialism, many people are unaware that some of us are considered second-class Indians. This is where one of my heroes, Rudy Ortega Jr., plays a vital role in the Tataviam community.

Rudy Ortega, Jr. is a citizen of Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and a leader among the people, both in an elected and spiritual capacity. A leader in his 30s, he has already had a lasting impact on our Tataviam community.

He served as the Tribal administrator for years, advancing the rights of Tataviam people and our Tribe. He has challenged American political officials to work in an inclusionary effort with the Tribe. He has advocated for the Tribe’s right – and the rights of many individuals – to help protect our waterways, lands and ancestors who became unearthed during excavations.

He has done all of this while supporting education and economic development efforts and reaffirming our federal acknowledgment status from the late 1800s. While these might not seem like examples of civil rights, this is the very basis of freedom for our people, for self-determination as a Tribe.

When California was annexed into the Union, 18 treaties were signed by tribal peoples with the Indian agent who accompanied the U.S. military. However, the treaties went unratified during a secret session of U.S. Senate in the 1850s. This extinguished aboriginal land titles and creating a complex situation- an absence of tribes in California, at least on paper.

Over the past century, the U.S. has ‘acknowledged’ some tribes in California. However, the Tataviam Tribe is still on the list awaiting federal acknowledgment. This means our people, who were acknowledged by both the Spanish and Mexican governments – the first controlling regimes, are without basic civil rights as Indian people in the United States.

We are NOT free to practice our religion under the Indian Religious Freedom Act. We can be fined and jailed for possession of a sacred eagle feather, we are not allowed entry to gather indigenous plants needed for spiritual and culture purposes (e.g. ceremony) and we are not provided basic health care by Indian Health Services nor many other services reserved for citizens of ‘federally-recognized’ tribes.

Despite being treated as a second-class Indian, Rudy Ortega Jr. has championed the rights of his people and inspired members of the Tataviam to join him in these efforts. It is one thing to be told you are ‘alien’ in a foreign land. It is another to be treated as an alien in your only homelands. It is cruel, cruel to our elders who live their entire lives as ‘aliens’ and cruel to our children to literally exclude them from Indian-based opportunities because they simply do not count in the eyes of the United States of America.

Despite these daily injustices, Rudy inspires hope in our people and champions the rights of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.”

Honored by: Pamela Villasenor

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Elders and children stripped of their identity by telling them their Tribe is not federally recognized is the cruelest type of poverty. Taking of someone’s identity and refusing to acknowledge that the person exists should never be acceptable behavior of any nation.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I work to empower our Tataviam community. We are one people who must invest in our one shared future. When I develop community programs it is not done in a vacuum, rather through the equal and informed participation of our families and through partnerships. Through community building, I hope our younger generations will continue to champion the rights of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians throughout this century.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Maria Antonietta Berriozabal – A Wise Community Guide

Maria Antonietta Berriozabal

Hero’s name: Maria Antonietta Berriozabal

Home city: San Antonio, Texas

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“I met Maria in 2002 during an intense grassroots struggle against a luxury golf resort proposed for the north side of the city in an environmentally-sensitive area. At the time, I knew little of who she was or what an important figure she had been in the history of San Antonio – that she was the daughter of immigrants, that she became the first Chicana on the San Antonio City Council.

She was renowned for her principled stands against economic policy and urban planning processes that privileged the interests of large developers and economic elites who ran the city– over the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Even at that time, however, Maria’s presence made a big impression on me.

At the time of the campaign against the golf resort, I was 22 years old and new to grassroots community organizing. It was the first time I had ever done things like speak in front of the City Council. I remember Maria asking me to speak, and I remember anxiously writing out my comments longhand on a scrap of paper just before I went up to the podium.

It was the first time I had ever done things like collect people’s signatures for a petition. And it was the first time I ever saw connections between fights to protect la madre tierra and fights for economic, racial and gender justice.

Maria’s analysis of these intersections would have a profound impact on my own development as both a scholar and community organizer. Over the next 12 years, she would become my mentor and one of my most beloved friends. What is profound about Maria’s organizing and advocacy work in San Antonio is not only that it is spiritually grounded in a deep commitment to liberation theology but also that it connects the dots between defense of those most vulnerable and defense of the Earth.

In my life she has been a model of leadership along the lines of what Gloria Anzaldua terms a ‘nepantlera’ – a wise woman guide who walks alongside those who occupy the space of struggle, the space of becoming between the world that is and the world we long for.”

Honored by: Marisol Cortez

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Based on my experience with poverty, it’s hard for me to define it differently than not being able to meet your basic needs. Everything becomes difficult and intensely stressful when you can’t provide for basic needs of food or medical care or rent or utilities or transportation. Little things that might otherwise be easy – getting groceries or taking your child to the doctor – become exhausting struggles or require painful trade offs (light bill or food?).

You constantly feel like you’re one unanticipated snag – one illness, one flat tire, one overdraft fee – away from a major crisis. Poverty is a kind of constant, low-level stress of survival, scrambling, hustling.

At the same time, I don’t think this state of ‘not enough’ corresponds easily to or is reducible to federal guidelines or quantitative cutoffs. At present I’m not making much more than I did when we were unable to meet basic household needs – but that little bit makes all the difference.

Relationships of sharing, cooperation and solidarity between neighbors, friends and family also protect folks from feeling ‘poor.’ To that extent, I feel like poverty is more a lived, qualitative experience of desperation in the face of scarcity, more so than a quantitative measure.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I work with Esperanza Peace and Justice Center as a community organizer and scholar, mostly around environmental justice and the creation of solidarity economies. At Esperanza, I develop and coordinate a community school program that supports local movement building.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Norma Aldape – ‘Spirit of Hope,’ Empowering Immigrants

Norma Aldape

Hero’s name: Norma Aldape

Home city: Mercedes, Texas (Colonia Los Olivarez Acres)

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Norma Aldape is my hero because even though she faces her own struggles of poverty and discrimination, she gathers together the spirit of hope and incorporates it with grassroots organizing.

She is an immigrant from Mexico, a house mother and a mother of beautiful young children. She has been a member of LUPE for over 10 years. She came to the U.S 13 years ago seeking a better education and future for her children. In her quest, she also discovered that her story was similar to millions of immigrant families in this country. She has not only made her family her only responsibility, but has instilled in her children and those around her the value of being responsible to the community.

Norma has been involved in organizing her neighbors to make changes to improve their lives. She organizes her neighbors to improve their colonia conditions to include proper drainage, streetlights, maintained streets and safe public spaces. She also has been heavily involved in the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform. In recent years, she has taken a larger role in her organizing and taking a lead to represent thousands of colonia residents. She regularly meets with county officials, and soon will take her knowledge and expertise to the state level to help push important changes in colonia development along Texas border communities.

On a personal level, Norma has had a tremendous impact on other people. She mentors other immigrant families who sometimes feel alone or ashamed to be immigrants and empowers them to organize instead. She provides her skill in organizing but also makes sure that LUPE becomes a resource for low-income families. LUPE is a non-profit community based organization that I work for as a community organizer.

Our group organizes in low-income communities, as well as provides services such as immigration, taxes and education. For Norma, when an individual or family approaches her for help, she is able to connect them to LUPE for assistance. She also understand that LUPE is only as big as its membership base, which is why pushing membership and more LUPE members to be active is important in her eyes.

Even though she has six children, lives below the poverty line, and many times, lacks basic necessities for her family, she still invests time in her community so that in the future her family and millions of others will live a more equitable life.”

Honored by: Daniel Diaz

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I would define it by the lack of basic necessities. If a family lacks proper nutrition, proper housing, health care, proper education then that is poverty.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I’m a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley where I help organize colonias to improve their standards of living. I help organize to improve housing conditions, community development, infrastructure like public spaces and drainage, as well as work for pro-immigrant legislation.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Ashley Allen – Dedication to Fighting Homelessness

Ashley Allen

Hero’s name: Ashley Allen

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Ashley Allen is a respected voice for people like herself, who grew up in a chronically homeless family. In more than five years on the CCH Speakers Bureau, Ashley has talked with and educated more than 3,000 students and community members in the Chicago area.

Most recently, Ashley was a panelist at DePaul University. She was joined by a homeless youth and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. They spoke to 68 students about the issues facing people who are homeless and at-risk – and they urged the senator to support budget items that help homeless students, families, emergency shelters and homeless prevention grants for families.

During her talks, Ashley tells of a father who had earned a master’s degree, but he when he lost his job, he turned to selling drugs to pay the bills. He got caught and was sent to prison. Ashley’s less-educated mother struggled to support three children on minimum wage retail jobs, despite working up to 60 hours a week. After getting behind on the rent, her evicted family moved into a Salvation Army shelter.

‘There were over 100 women and children sleeping in a huge room with bunk beds lined up in a row. The shelter was a lot like prison: We had to wake up at 5 every morning. Bright fluorescent lights would pop on and we all had to start our day, even if we had nowhere to go. We had to all eat at the same time, take a shower when they said take a shower and go to bed at 9 every night, whether you were sleepy or not. For the next 10 years, my family moved around to different shelters, lived doubled up with family, in hotels and in subsidized housing,’ she recalls.

Ashley emphasizes education as way out of poverty. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M University and master’s degree in public administration from Illinois’ Governors State University. She is pursuing coursework toward a doctorate in education.

She also works on the Education Committee, a new CCH group that works with community organizers to advocate on issues that affect homeless families in Chicago Public Schools. Since 2009, she’s also volunteered on the selection committee for the CCH college scholarship program, which offers renewable $2,000 awards to 15 homeless students a year.

She tutors new winners on college aid and financing – an area of expertise in her job as high school program director for Horizons for Youth. In her paid employment, Ashley works with 35 high school and 20 college students and their volunteer mentors.

‘Ashley has an amazing ability to relate to such a range of people, from donors in the North Shore to inner city youth to fellow members of the Speakers Bureau,’ said Hannah Willage, CCH associate organizing director.

‘Her dedication to social justice is an inspiration. She always finds the time and energy to encourage others to join with us in our fight to prevent and end homelessness.’”

Honored by: Anne Bowhay of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is Ashley’s definition?

“Poverty is not having your basic needs met. More so, it is about resource inequality. What are the resources available and how are they distributed among people? Do you have equal access to jobs, good schools, housing?”

How does Ashley work for community justice?

“I like meeting all the different people through the Speakers Bureau. We get to speak to people of all ages, all religions, all economic levels. A lot of people don’t know realize at the time, but we’re helping change the face of homelessness. Learn how to advocate, agitate. It is very empowering considering most of us have been through some very difficult times.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Eva Aucapina – Advocating for Domestic Workers, Respect

EvaAucapina

Hero’s name: Eva Aucapina

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Eva Aucapina is a native of Ecuador and has been a domestic worker in California for the past 27 years. She is currently residing in Rosemead, Calif. Since her arrival she has worked as a house cleaner and has a passion for caring and supporting children and seniors. She works as a live-in nanny for a family.

Eva joined the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) in 2009 when she could no longer be a bystander while her fellow domestic workers suffered abuses. It was there that she first became involved with the state-wide movement for domestic workers rights. With a desire to create change, she plans to fight until her line of work is respected in California.”

Honored by: Rosana Reyes of National Domestic Workers Alliance

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is not having access to education and your rights as a worker in the U.S.”

How do you work for community justice?

“Eva is another example of a domestic worker who has fought long and hard for the rights of low-income and immigrant women. She was also instrumental in organizing to pass a domestic worker Bill of Rights in California.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Ana Aguayo – Changing ‘Unwanted’ to ‘Force for Change’

Ana Aguayo

Hero’s name: Ana Aguayo

Home city: Springdale, Ark.

Organization affiliation: Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Ana Aguayo is an activist committed to the worker rights movement and to her community. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, Ana faced adversity that only steeled her resolve to make the world a better place. Her work is inspired by her Catholic faith and her experiences, as a young person, interpreting for family members and witnessing the effects of immigration, discrimination and wage theft within her family.

In her words: ‘The more I had people tell me I was unwanted, unwelcome and a criminal, the more I wanted to be a driving force for change. I wanted to work to empower communities that have been historically marginalized to recognize systems of oppression and not fall into the cycle of abusing others.’

As the interim executive director at the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, Ana is doing just that.

The Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC) improves the conditions of employment for low-wage workers who face injustice on the job. NWAWJC has recovered more than $640,000 in back wages owed to low-wage workers, trained over 1,000 low-income workers to advocate for themselves and their rights in the workplace and assisted in over 400 cases of workplace abuse.

Ana and her brother joined the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center in 2008 as volunteer worker advocates, offering interpretation in a case involving 12 Latino construction workers who were fighting against wage theft.

Says Ana, “Just being an advocate is not enough to bring about justice. It is also about mobilizing others to believe and fight for the same vision. So, I strive to build relationships, alliances, and more importantly, to create opportunities for action and engagement. I strive to collaborate to put together vigils, marches, and days of fasting, pickets and events to celebrate our milestones with the community.”

Ana Aguayo was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. She came with her parents and seven brothers and sisters to the United States in 1997, at the age of 7.

NWAWJC gave Ana a chance to do the work to which she has always been called to do.

‘I am able to be life the voice of those who are seldom heard. I am working towards justice by helping tell the stories of those affected by injustice, and by leading my community to take action and to create a path towards economic justice,’ she says.”

Honored by: Ruth Orme-Johnson of Interfaith Worker Justice

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is Ana’s definition?

“Ana defines poverty as a ‘state of hopelessness and frustration.’ Interfaith Worker Justice agrees and works tirelessly to bring hope and clarity to those who feel alone in their personal quest for worker justice.”

How do you work for community justice?

“Interfaith Worker Justice advances the rights of workers by engaging diverse faith communities into action, from grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Habitat for Humanity in Fla. – Horsepower, Housing for All

Staff-and-Volunteers-at-Habitat-for-Humanity-of-South-Palm-Beach-County

Heroes’ name: Staff and volunteers at Habitat for Humanity of South Palm Beach County, Inc.

Home city: Delray Beach, Fla.

Organization affiliation: Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County, Inc.

Why these people are Community Heroes:

“With the help of our generous staff supporters and volunteers, since our establishment in 1991, we have empowered 113 families in our community to achieve their dream of owning a safe, decent and affordable new home. An additional 100 hardworking and deserving families in the cities of Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, and Boca Raton, Florida, have had their homes repaired and/or painted.”

Honored by: Pat Rowan of Habitat for Humanity of Palm County, Inc.

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Thanks to our staff and volunteers, families who have never lived in a stable environment, are now safe in their homes. Some would consider our families poor, but the richness overflows on their faces when they receive the key to their first home!”

How does your group work for community justice?

“Every family deserves to live in a safe, healthy and clean home and neighborhood. We make every effort to ensure that families in our area are aware of our programs, which include financial literacy training for adults and students, held locally, at no cost to the participants. Additionally, we are a ‘Veteran’s Build Affiliate,’ offering our services to those who keep us safe each day.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Maria Gomez (Doña Mari) – ‘Living Face’ of Farmworkers

Maria Gomez

Hero’s name: Maria Gomez

Home city: Pharr, Texas

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Doña Mari – as Maria Gomez is known among community members – is the hero at La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), not only because of her amazing food that feeds the community but most importantly because she has dedicated her entire life to helping others.

Doña Mari is always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Here in the Rio Grande Valley, Doña Mari is the living face of the United Farm Workers (UFW). Maria was born in the United States into a family of 13 ,where education was not an option since they were living in poverty.

She was raised in Mexico and had to help out her parents by babysitting children at the age of 10. Her family came back to the U.S. when she was 15. That’s when life really got hard, she says. It was tough and sad for her to work the fields because, day by day, her people were being mistreated and disrespected.

She remembers her first ‘Huelga’ like it was yesterday. The farm workers were only being paid 60 cents for a case of onions. ‘Yo creo que ami dios ya me via dado el espiruto de lucha , ami no me dio miedo salirme,’ she says. And that’s where it all began, after that boycott and those protests for better pay, Maria never stopped looking for ways to organize others to better the community.

In 1976, Doña Mari began volunteering with the UFW. She helped organize farm workers. She went to protests and boycotts, motivating them to join the UFW. She she encourage many to feel powerful and valuable. Eight years after that, she began to work for the UFW and would travel to California for boycotts and meetings where she was able to meet Cesar Chavez.

A hero does not work for his or her own benefit. A hero is always in search to help others. For the next 10 years, while working with LUPE, she was able to make many great changes in the community.

She is never too tired when a family member needs help. She often babysits her grandkids. She believes that the most important thing is to get the family involved in the social justice movement.

In 2010, Doña Mari retired and was no longer a LUPE staff member. But it did not mean she would stop working for the necessities of the people and empowering women. She gives rides to people to the doctor and to the store. She also helps the elderly locate their loved ones when they get detained by the Border Patrol or are in jail.

This year, like every year, she will participate in our annual Cesar Chavez March. Only this year, she will be riding in a decorated float because her knee is still recovering from surgery.

LUPE is a nonprofit community organization. I work for as a community organizer. Our group organizes and works with low-income communities, as well as provides services such as immigration, taxes and education.

There is no doubt that Doña Mari’s heart is with people and their necessities. It is her determination that makes up for what she may lack in education and the ability to walk. Doña Mari is our hero!

Honored by: Julieta Paredes of LUPE

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Jorge Rubio – Standing Up for Fairness and Wages

Jorge Rubio

Hero’s name: Jorge Rubio

Home city: Brownsville, Texas

Organization affiliation: Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center/Centro de Trabajadores

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Jorge had the courage to confront his employer and fight the sub-minimum wages being paid there. Thanks to his efforts and his participation with the Workers’ Center, we were able to get his employer to begin paying minimum wages and to pay back wages. Jorge is active with the Brownsville Workers’ Committee of Fuerza del Valle.”

Honored by: Hector Guzman Lopez of Texas Civil Rights Project

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is man made, its not a force of nature, it is a force of ignorance, avarice, and strategic hoarding of resources; modern poverty is descendant of slavery and the conquest.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Cristela Rocha – Shows Resolve to Help Working People

Cristela Rocha

Hero’s name: Cristela Rocha

Home city: Edinburg, Texas

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero/Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Cristela has been in the movement for decades. She organized with the United Farm Workers in Texas and Florida and now helps organize with La Union del Pueblo Entero in Pharr, SanJuan and Alamo and with the Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center.

Cristela is absolutely amazing in her resolve to support working people in the fight for social justice. Her motto, as we have adopted, is, ‘suave con la persona, duro con el problema.’ In other words: Be ‘soft with people and hard with the problem.’”

Honored by: Hector Guzman Lopez of Texas Civil Rights Project

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is society’s sickness. The only cure for it is a participatory poor-people’s movement – from the bottom.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Rosita Romero – Helping Wage Workers Get Insurance

Rosita Romero

Hero’s name: Rosita Romero

Home city: Phoenix

Organization affiliation: Chandler High School

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Rosita comes in at a whopping 16 years old. She became active in her community in 2012, when she and her friends made up one of the largest and most committed young voter registration teams. They commuted 45 minutes every day in a 15-passenger van to come to Phoenix and register voters.

This year, she has stepped it up a notch and takes public transportation to the office so that she can help sign up low-wage workers for health insurance.”

Honored by: Carah Campini of Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Angelica Salas – Striving to Make Country a Better Place

Angelica Salas

Hero’s name: Angelica Salas

Home city: Pasadena

Organization affiliation: Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Angelica has been fighting to make a better California and nation for immigrants.”

Honored by: Jorge-Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Yvette Salinas – An Organizer Working to Stop Wage Theft

Yvette Salinas

Hero’s name: Yvette Salinas

Home city: Alton, Texas

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero/Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Yvette is a community organizer for La Union del Pueblo Entero and is active with Fuerzadel Valle Workers’ Center.

She facilitates the construction of people power by supporting working families to organize for justice in our communities and workplace.

She runs the weekly wage theft orientations in Alton for workers, coordinates multiple neighborhood committees and supports the movement in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.”

Honored by: Hector Guzman Lopez of Texas Civil Rights Project

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is institutionalized injustice, it is the ultimate manifestation of avarice of a system with a lack of vision to provide for all of God’s children.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Maria Sandoval – Building a Workers’ Movement in Texas

Maria Sandoval

Hero’s name: Maria Sandoval

Home city: Edinburg, Texas

Organization affiliation: Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center/El Centro de Trabajadores

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Maria Sandoval has been an important part of the Workers’ Center, supporting its development through participation in the Workers’ Committee in Alamo, which has workers from all of Central Hidalgo County. Maria stands strong against wage theft and is building a workers’ movement in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Honored by: Hector Guzman Lopez of Texas Civil Rights Project

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty is theft, theft of potential, of nourishment with the wealth society has accumulated over the ages.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Diana Dorn Jones – An Activist Devoted to Strong Families

Diana Dorn Jones

Hero’s name: Diana Dorn Jones

Home city: Albuquerque

Organization affiliation: United South Broadway Corp.

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Empowering and educating her community have been the foundation on which Diana Dorn Jones has based her work and vision. Living and working in the heart of a low-wealth neighborhood prompted Ms. Dorn Jones’ activism and work on the needs of households headed by women of color raising children and grandchildren.

The South Broadway neighborhood is one of the largest geographic neighborhood areas in the federally-designated ‘pocket’ of poverty.

As Cesar Chavez once said, ‘From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.’

This has been exemplified at her organization, United South Broadway Corp. (USBC) where each individual has the right to fair and equal housing, educational opportunities and the ability to affect public policy.

For over 20 years, Ms. Dorn Jones has organized politicians, neighborhoods and community leaders to help increase the availability of safe and decent affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income first time homebuyers.

She also has promoted the rehabilitation and preservation of neighborhood commercial areas and improved educational and job opportunities for neighborhood youth. And she has strengthened the capacity of low-wealth neighborhood residents to participate effectively in the development of more equitable and democratic economic policies.

Under the direction of Ms. Dorn Jones, USBC has become an innovative organization with numerous strengths related to the resident-driven culture of the organization and its holistic approach to serving low-wealth neighborhoods.

Ms. Dorn Jones’ work exemplifies Cesar Chavez’ ideology.”

Honored by: Denise Deiterman

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Raquel Roybal – A Determined Person Taking on Big Issues

Raquel Roybal

Hero’s name: Raquel Roybal

Home city: Albuquerque

Organization affiliation: OLÉ – Organizers in the Land of Enchantment

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Raquel has been a part of our organization for many years and has grown as a leader immensely. To see that kind of growth in her has shown that even someone with a small voice can come out as a hero in the end. She is strong, determined and has never shied away from anything that offends or takes to her disliking.

She sees the urgency and importance to each issue we fight for and has the willingness to battle to the end, even if it takes years to see the change initially wished for.When it comes to the people she has helped, it would have to be many. For the issues we fight for are plenty and she is active in all of them: conservation, early education, minimum wage, workers’ rights, immigration reform and health care.”

Honored by: Rebecca Glenn of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“This is defined by Raquel: ‘Sometimes less is more because some may have more than others but at the same time may be lacking in so much more.’”

How do you work for community justice?

“We do several things: take action toward specific people of power to try and alert the public of their wrongdoings, organize people to take part in these actions, lobby legislators on which issues they should be supporting and so much more.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Michael Seifert – Wants Everyone to Reach ‘Full Potential’

Mike Seifert

Hero’s name: Michael Seifert

Home city: Brownsville, Texas

Organization affiliation: Equal Voice Network

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Mike is an exceptional leader in our four-county area, which encompasses almost a million people in south Texas. He has spent at least the last 14 years working on issues that affect the poor without a voice. He has committed almost every day to improving their situation, whether they are citizens, residents or not in every sense of the word.

He helps people with education, housing, jobs and health care. He is committed to the fact that all who cross his path and all who do not but have a need will get the kind of basic help to achieve their full potential in life. Currently, he is our network weaver and continues to organize the disenfranchised to achieve their dreams.

Mike has incredible energy and manages to keep a fast, positive pace to create change for the greater good.”

Honored by: Paula S. Gomez of Brownsville Community Health Center

Note: Michael Seifert also writes opinion essays for Equal Voice News.

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I would say the absence of a voice or self esteem describes poverty because those two elements can lay the groundwork to have success in work, education and health. They are keys to being productive and happy.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


An ‘Unstoppable Team’ in Phoenix Working to Raise Wages

Tirhas Endrias

Hero’s names: Tirhas Endrias, Brenda Pineda and Ababa Abraham

Home city: Phoenix

Organization affiliation: Unite HERE!

Why these three individuals are Community Heroes:

“These three women make up an unstoppable team – all under 25 and women of color. They worked tirelessly to organize their co-workers and build a union of food service workers at Sky Harbor Airport. After getting up at 4 a.m., taking the bus to work, working more than 8 hours, these ladies would then visit their co-workers at home and talk with them about fighting back against low wages and terrible treatment. Now, they sit across the table from their managers as equals negotiating their first union contract.”

In the group photo, Tirhas Endrias is in the front row, on the left. She is wearing a gray sweater and orange shirt. Brenda Pineda is in the front row, on the right. She is wearing a blue shirt and vest. Ababa Abraham is in the back row, on the right. She is wearing black clothing.

Honored by: Carah Campini of Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Tanya and Christian Torp – Justice a ‘Way of Life’

tanya_torp

Heroes’ names: Tanya and Christian Torp

Home city: Lexington, Ky.

Organization affiliation: Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Faith Feeds, Step by Step and others

Why are they Community Heroes:

“Christian and Tanya Torp help underrepresented people of Lexington, Ky. by empowering them and providing them with resources they need. They are an extremely faith-driven couple whose lives revolve around helping others. They do not just do empowerment and justice work when they have time, but they live it day in and day out.

Everything they do is for bettering the community they live in. Both are a part of many different organizations:

1. Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, where they are on the leadership board working on many issues such as restoring voting rights to felons and voter registration.

2. Faith Feeds, where they are neighborhood ambassadors putting out food they receive from local grocery stores in front of their house every Friday for those who need it.

3. Step by Step, which empowers young women because they have been failed by the system put in place in Lexington.

4. Community Action Council, which works to resolve many problems that come up in the community.

Tanya Torp has even started her own foundation, Be Bold, which helps young women and girls in the community by empowering them to go beyond their circumstances (poverty, addiction, teen motherhood, etc.) and do something great with their lives.

When asked about all the things the Torps were involved with Tanya said, ‘Justice is a way of life for us, we just live it.’

Even their house on Elm Tree Lane in the heart of Lexington where some of the most underprivileged people live serves as a meeting place for people to come together to do justice work. It is also a safe place where those in need know they can come for food, shelter and a people who have understanding hearts.

Christian uses his training as a lawyer to help those who cannot normally get help in our community, specifically undocumented peoples, for little or no pay. The Torps are living the same lives as the people in the neighborhood around them, living at the poverty line. They can relate to the people who come to them for help absolutely.

They do not discriminate and do not judge, literally helping any soul in the community. If someone comes to them with a problem they cannot fix or alleviate, they have connections with somebody who can. They have effectively created a network of community resources so that anybody can get help they need.

Essentially, the Torps help everyone by doing everything that they can because of a pure desire to do justice in the community.”

Honored by: Heather Mahoney of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is the Torps’ definition?

“Christian and Tanya would definitely define the word ‘poverty’ differently. Tanya said, ‘People who have a lot are in poverty.’

The Torps are rich even though they live at the poverty line because they have a richness of spirit and community that one cannot find in more affluent neighborhoods. In the neighborhood that the Torps live in, they all rely on each other and are ‘all in this together,’ as Christian said.

They both said that the system in place looks down on those living at or beneath the poverty line, but they should not because they have a richness of spirit and community that the rest of society does not have.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Zenaida Ventura – Education, Always in Her Heart

Zenaida Ventura

Hero’s name: Zenaida Ventura

Home city: Fresno, Calif.

Organization affiliation: Parent Voices

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Zenaida came to the U.S. when she was 15 years old. She was not able to attend school because she had to work the fields with her parents. Later on, she married and had two children.

She never once stopped dreaming of finishing school. In 2013, she completed her GED. She is now contemplating going to Fresno City College. She speaks three languages: Mixteco, Spanish and English.

Zenaida, at a very young age, started advocating for the rights of others. It started with helping her parents as they were new immigrants in the U.S. For a number of years, she has been an advocate for families through her involvement with Parent Voices (child care) and is now involved with Building Healthy Communities (social issues pertaining to the health needs of the community) as well as other organizations that work on immigration rights for the undocumented.

She has voiced her concerns at City Council meetings about the damaging resolution that goes against creating a healthier community in the low-economic areas of central, southeast, and southwest areas of Fresno. She has addressed concerns at a press conference about the impact on homeless and undocumented families if the Medically Indigent Services Program (MISP) were to be eliminated in Fresno.”

Honored by: Lourdes Hernandez of Central Valley Children’s Services Network

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically de fined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Yes. Poverty is the aspiration to equity, justice, dignity, hope and perseverance toward a progressive quality of life.”

How do you work for community justice?

“We have a parent-run, parent-led grassroots organization that fights to make quality child care accessible and affordable to all families. Our parents also are involved in other social justice issues such as immigration, health care and educational opportunities for their children. Parent Voices combines leadership development, advocacy and community organizing in its effort to increase funding, improve quality and provide better access to child care.

Members receive training on the budget and legislative process. They are involved in rapid response actions such as writing to legislators, in-person visits, rallies, and marches at the California state Capitol and in Washington, D.C.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Alenora Williams – Promotes Pride, Opportunities, Healing

Alenora Williams

Hero’s name: Alenora Williams

Home city: Elaine, Ark.

Organization affiliation: Elaine Community Opportunity Seekers (local chapter of Rural Community Alliance)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Alenora Williams loves serving the community of Elaine and Phillips County in the Arkansas Delta. She has been a special education paraprofessional for over 25 years. She sees potential in children whom society may have otherwise given up on. She’s very active in her church.

In 2012, she spearheaded founding of the organization Elaine Community Opportunity Seekers (ECOS). Through this organization, she’s been heavily involved in creating economic opportunity, getting residents involved in community revitalization, promoting racial healing, promoting pride in the community, engaging young people and bridging the gap between the generations.

This has been accomplished through establishment of a community theater group called Fish Hook Theater. They gather stories from community members that demonstrate struggle, triumph, sorrow and joy. Through a local playwright, the stories are developed into plays that also weave songs into the stories. ECOS is also developing murals for the town and promoting the creative economy through arts and crafts entrepreneurship.

Alenora’s vision and commitment is the driving force that keeps the group going.”

Honored by: Renee Carr of Rural Community Alliance

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“In the case of Elaine, Arkansas, poverty could be defined by no longer having a school in the community, subsequent loss of businesses and lack of job opportunities.

Alenora says, ‘I view poverty as an opportunity and a motivator. Poverty restricts your livelihood to an extent. This condition should ignite one to seek better, to desire more. Though for it to be an opportunity, a vision of betterment is needed.’ Alenora quotes from Proverbs: ‘Without a vision, people perish.’”

How do you work for community justice?

“Alenora optimistically views her community as a plethora of hidden talent. She works to ‘tap into’ and bring out community residents’ gifts and talents. By doing so, she’s essentially converting human capital into financial capital by empowering the people of Elaine to create their own economic prosperity.

In a town that is geographically segregated by race, to a large degree, Alenora is making progress in bringing people of all races together by involving them in the plays and the artistic activities of the community.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Cesar Aguirre – Pursuing Change for Himself and his Kids

Cesar Aguirre

Hero’s name: Cesar Aguirre

Home city: Tucson, Ariz.

Organization affiliation: Casa Maria Food Kitchen

Why this person is a Community Hero:

Alonzo Morado, who is honoring Cesar Aguirre, submitted this news article – which is in Spanish and English - about him. Ernesto Portillo Jr. of the Arizona Daily Star wrote the story, which was published in March. Here is an excerpt:

“After years of drugs, running with a gang, seeing his life spiral away, Cesar Aguirre had a decision to make. Either continue or change.

Aguirre chose change.

Today the 31-year-old continues to make changes.”

Honored by: Alonzo Morado of Primavera Foundation

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“Poverty should be define by what people endure to raise a family to have a roof over their heads.”

How do you work for community justice?

“I work educating people with low means, to speak up and to use their rights.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Blanca Hidalgo – Knowledge Leads to ‘Meaningful Change’

Blanca Hidalgo

Hero’s name: Blanca Hidalgo

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Mujeres Latinas en Acción

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Blanca Hidalgo is a leader driven by a need to improve the the community and the lives of women. From encouraging legal permanent residents to become citizens to stopping violence in Pilsen, Blanca believes that information is necessary for meaningful change. She has incorporated this into all aspects of her life.

Since joining Mujeres Latinas en Acción’s programs in 2005, Blanca has been an active participant of Mujeres. Blanca was a single mother, struggling with a different culture and language when she entered the Latina Leadership Program. It transformed her vision of herself and her power within the community. She learned to discard the negative cultural beliefs she was taught about women’s roles and that Latinas could be leaders in the community. After taking the class, Blanca became one of Mujeres’ most active volunteers.

Blanca believes in strengthening her community by presenting women and their families with the information they need to be healthy and thrive. Helping the community overcome barriers to health has been a constant theme in her work. She was recruited to be a Promotora de Salud, a health promoter, who speaks throughout Chicago about health issues to encourage Latinas to take care of themselves. The campaigns she supports have taught thousands of women about cervical cancer and heart attacks.

Currently, Blanca goes into the community to teach people about the Affordable Care Act and helps them register. Blanca is also passionate about promoting citizenship and immigration reform. She travels throughout Chicago with the New Americans Initiative, talking with legal permanent residents about becoming citizens and helping them fill out paperwork.

During the push for the temporary visitor driver’s license bill, Blanca went to Springfield to advocate for the legislation, speaking to her legislators about why it was necessary for those in her community.

Outside of her role with Mujeres, she volunteers at Benito Juarez High School, monitoring the students to prevent outbreaks of violence and encouraging them to stay in school. Recently, in response to the gun violence wracking Pilsen and the grave gun injury sustained by a friend of her son, Blanca met with an alderman to demand a solution that will prevent future violence.”

Honored by: Claire Denton-Spalding of Mujeres Latinas en Acción

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is Blanca’s definition?

“Blanca defines poverty as a lack of supportive community and lack of knowledge. Mujeres’ groups for domestic violence and parent support create a community atmosphere where participants learn to trust each other and work together.

For Blanca, true poverty is a lack of this type of connection and the support and encouragement these connections create. Many people have their ambitions and talents squashed by cultural barriers and institutionalized racism.

Blanca believes that these disenfranchising barriers that prevent people from becoming self-aware represent another form of poverty.”

How does Blanca work for community justice?

“Blanca works for justice through providing information that can change lives, both to community members and decision makers. As a hairstylist, she speaks daily with women from the community, learning about their lives and struggles. As a volunteer and Promotora, she meets many women and families from throughout the community.

She advocates for these women and their families by giving them information that could change their lives. Blanca’s community involvement and understanding of neighborhood issues make her a crucial advocate. Blanca brings the community’s voice to decision makers, be it Mujeres staff or legislators in Springfield.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.


Willie Sandoval – ‘Grounded in Native Cultural Values’

Willie Sandoval

Hero’s name: Willie Sandoval (Navajo)

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: American Indian Community Council of Los Angeles, Native Voice Network

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Willie Sandoval (Navajo, Winnebego, Menominee) is a tireless community leader working for the economic empowerment of the Los Angeles Native community. He led the L.A. Indian community’s first volunteer tax preparation site, which has been in operation for more than seven years.

He has led a tax credit campaign, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars back into our community. He has trained dozens of youth and families in a Native cultural values-based financial education campaign. He also co-founded the ‘Planting Seeds’ matched savings program.

Most recently, Willie recruited 20 Native American runners to participate in the L.A. Marathon to promote visibility of Native American issues in Los Angeles.  They encouraged wellness in our community and raised funds for the grassroots community organization, the American Indian Community Council of Los Angeles.

Willie is an inspirational community leader who is grounded in Native cultural values. He is a true hero in our community. I can think of no one better to be nominated for the Ceasr Chavez Day Community Hero for he has a selfless devotion to community and change.”

Honored by: Chrissie Castro

On #DefinePoverty: Poverty is typically defined by what you don’t have. What is your definition?

“I see poverty in terms of the World Health Organization’s definition of violence, which is ‘the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.’

As I see it, with the massive gap in wealth in this country, the system is set up for poor people to experience much higher likelihood of  ’injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.’

In my indigenous cultural values, we don’t see ourselves as poor. We are rich in history, tradition and family.

Poverty is linked to poor outcomes in almost every indicator of health and well-being. We must put an end to the gross inequities of wealth in this country.”

How do you work for community justice?

“As a community activist, researcher, board member, community member, volunteer, mentor, coach and friend.”

Click on the headline or here to visit each post profile.

Watch a Video Clip About Cesar Chavez and Join the #DefinePoverty Conversation


Join #DefinePoverty
'Cesar's Last Fast' Video
'Cesar's Last Fast' Video

#DefinePoverty Video