As you are someone whose relationship I have valued over the years, I wanted to let you know that my employment with the Southside Organizing Committee
(SOC) was terminated by the SOC Board of Directors on a 5-0 vote on November 15, 2015. The SOC Board —Jason Cleereman
, Graciela Hernandez
, Marina Borges
, Carmen Cabrera
and Zonya Lopez
— gave no reason for its action. As a publicly funded entity, SOC board meetings are open to the public.
In my 22 years at SOC I have always acted in what I felt were the best interests of the organization and the 88,000 people of the Near South Side. My decisions were based upon the facts available and the multitude of voices I heard throughout my time and space in the community. One of the first lessons of community organizing is that all decisions serve an interest. While I respect the Board’s right to make this choice to terminate my employment, I am saddened as I think it serves neither the organization nor the community.
Please know that I have enjoyed working with you and for you over these last 22 years. We had a great partnership, and together we accomplished a lot for the community. I leave SOC proud of all the work we have done and am especially proud of this past year’s accomplishments, including
- Connecting over 200 Energy Assistance eligible households to this annual program of which they were previously unaware;
- Connecting over 100 residents to programs that helped maintain and improve housing conditions for Near South Side families;
- Getting $2 million in new funding set aside in the City’s 2015 budget for homeowners struggling to maintain their homes, a critical need for which we had consistently and demonstratively advocated;
- Drawing attention to a proposed counter-effective, fee and inspection program aimed at affordable housing providers on certain blocks of the Near South Side;
- Delivering over 8,000 letters to the candidates for governor this fall in support of a driver’s license program for the thousands of immigrant laborers and caregivers who are concentrated on the Near South Side;
- Gathering over 500 Near South Side residents, including Near South Side elected representatives and the mayor to advocate for State help on the issue of driver’s licenses, home maintenance and public safety; and perhaps most significantly,
- Establishing SOC as a leading, local, mediating voice in the national conversation on immigration as an organization that acts on the common interests of the community where the highest concentration of the State’s immigrants reside.
With the help of SOC staff over the last two years, I leave SOC on firm financial footing with unrestricted revenue and assets over $15,000; commitments of $274,090 in 2015 grant funding; as a finalist for a substantial, multi-year national community organizing award slated for June 2015; and with a strong outreach and translation revenue generating service. It is my hope that the organization will continue to be a voice for the people. Please do all you can to continue to ensure that the people are heard!
Over my 22 years at SOC I had a lot of help from other committed staff and volunteers who helped build the organization and establish credibility within the community. More than any other SOC staff person, Freddy Garnica
really connected SOC to the growing Latino community on the Near South Side and helped SOC stay true to its indigenous roots as the neighborhood changed from 75% Anglo to 75% Latino over the past generation. This year’s staff of Misael Hernandez
, Clarissa Morales
and Patricia Ruiz
performed exceptionally under extreme pressure. Louisa Diliberti
, Jesus Hernandez, Jr.
, Phoua Vang
, Paulina DeHaan
, Jocasta Zamarripa
, Barbara McKillop
, Nazareth Ornelas
, Amy Senneke
, Cesar Roman
, Ann Singh
, Alicia Gonzalez
, Marty Tirado
, Jackie Ziegler
, Martha Kampmann
, and Michael Kost
were all the right people at the right time for SOC to get to where it is today. Equally responsible for SOC’s successes were some of the board members who complemented SOC staff efforts with their hard work and gumption, their passion for the cause, and the pragmatic leadership they exhibited during their tenure including the late Jose Gutierrez, SOC’s first Chairman; Betty Grinker, Alice Lisota, Roberto Castillo, Charles Engle, Tom and Evelyn Sheehan, Earl Komassa, Theresa Schwager, Jack Drobnik, Ceil Puskarich, Mavis Mathea, Denise and Vivian Zellmer, Darlene Rakowski, Bob Donovan, Pat Prudlow, Pastor Jim Getka, Dominga Cordero, Lupe Ball, Eileen Owens, Shawn Golla, Jose Lopez, Tim Ballering, Joel Martinez, Roger Kristicevic, David Turner, Karen Deiro, Dagoberto Ibarra, Jack Szymborski, Kathy Treacy, Julie Smith, Joe Perez, Tony Garnica, Erich Straub, Frank Villa, Elaine Handeland, Gloria Gonzalez, Ernesto Nava, Christine Shaughnessy, Marta Alamo, Mike Johnson, Jose (M&G) Lopez, Linda Zinke, Rev. Madeline Fuentez
and dozens of other friends and supporters.
Lastly, I want you to know I am grateful for all the professional and life affirming relationships I have made with all of you –local pastors, local school principals and parent coordinators, community development agency staff, funders, dedicated public employees and most especially, the hard working, common sensical, independent-thinking and family-loving people of the Near South Side. It was a challenging job, but I found it easy to work for you! I wish you all the very best!
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