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One On One Profiles of IAF Leaders BY WENDY WATRISS Virginia Ramirez Leader and community coordinator for. Communities Organized for Public Service in San Antonio. I came to COPS for a special reason. I wanted them to solve my problems. I lived in one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Antonio, Colonia Amistad. I had an old neighbor who died, and I remember the paramedics saying it was because she didn’t have enough heat. I was angry. I wanted something to be done about the housing in my neighborhood. I had heard about COPS because I had a friend who belonged. She told me about it, but for a long time I didn’t go. Then my neighbor died. COPS had a local action, and I decided to go to talk about housing problems. But I left angry: They didn’t solve my problems. Later one of the organizers, Christine, came to my house. She came in and she talked to me, about me. She wanted to know how I felt, why I was angry, what I was thinking about. I told her I wasn’t going to help, couldn’t help, because I wasn’t an educated person. But one night I went again. I remember that meeting: It was the end of the year and cold, December 1981. I remember listening to all those people. I said to myself, “Jesus, these people must really be educated. They sound so intelligent.” But they were people like my neighbors. I was very proud. I wanted so much to take the first step, but I was afraid afraid of the unknown, afraid of failing. My English was very limited. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to 12 NOVEMBER 22, 1990 know the limits of my education. I left school at 14 and married at 15. I stayed home for 24 years. I was a wife and mother. The COPS leaders worked with me. They taught me how to run meetings, how to plan an agenda, how to speak publicly. They gave me the courage to take risks. I was hungry for more education. My hunger got so deep that I actually enrolled in school. I was 44. I got my GED and I started college. I wanted to learn everything. I got out of the house when I joined COPS. It was like a whole new world. I never knew I had so many talents. In 1982, I was elected area vice president. One of my first actions was to go before the city council to demand where money allocated for our neighborhood had gone. Christine, the organizer, coached me. We did a lot of research. There was $300,000 allocated for Amistad, and the money was moved elsewhere. We formed a committee and met with our city council representative and then the head of Community Development Block Grants. We demanded to see the notes of a meeting when the money was discussed. We learned that it was moved to another part of the city as a loan and we could demand it back. I always remember the day we went to city council. My throat was dry, my legs were shaking. I was petrified. Just before I started to speak, I turned around. There were 40 leaders from my parish behind me. I’ll never forget that. That is the strength we have. If they hadn’t been there, I probably couldn’t have done it. I barely remember what I said, but I must have done a good job because we got the money back. But I do remember what I felt when I got home: “My God I can do things! I am able to make changes.” Suddenly I became a public person, with school and work and a future. I am going part-time to college to get a degree in public health. I am effective in the community. I know exactly how far I can go and who are the people I can push. I have a strong relationship with the community that has taken years to develop. Once people trust you in these organizations, you have that trust forever. People think the organizers come to train us, but it’s a two-way street. We teach them our culture, our people, our problems. Sometimes we go after them, sometimes they go after us. We share ideas back and forth. Especially at COPS, we’ve always had strong leaders. I know they are the bosses, and we are not afraid to say no. There is always tension between the organizers and the lead’ ers, but that tension is good, I think. We need the expertise of the organizers, but if we don’t think we are the owners, it won’t work. We have many experienced and talented leaders now. We have to take a step further. We are people of vision, and this is part of the vision that we are expanding. Monte Elliott Leader with Allied Communities of Tarrant I like the process, the one-on-one meetings. That’s the way you get to know where people are and what their feelings are about things. They give you an opportunity to share your own feelings, and you learn from them. My father was an engineer, and I am manager of external affairs and public relations for Southwestern Bell. My parents always stressed education. I had always felt frustrated by the apathy of people, and I wanted to .get people more involved. A lot of the apathy is because people know what the problems are but don’t know how to do anything about them. What I like about this organizing process is the potential for empowering people to do things. I like the non-partisan approach of the organization because I want to hear what everyone has to say. The organizer’s role is primarily to agitate the leadership analyze an action, critique what I do. It’s the role of facilitator, agitator, and evaluator. And my role is to do the same thing to my congregation challenging `4,,,,,Lfr9VAM1.40’S