I left the house Saturday morning, armed and ready with my facts, and headed down to ‘Segundo Barrio’ but ended up with a completely differnt story than the one intended. Don’t you love when that happens? I do.
Earlier in the week, I had received an invitation to attend a community talk over an upcoming project in El Paso’s segundo area (as some of you may recall I’ve previously mentioned that I spent part of my childhood in that area) what concerned me about this event was that I saw The LIBRE Initiative had a presence at this community discussion.
WHOA, right!? Now you see why I was concerned, Segundo Barrio is one of the areas most in need and I found it highly suspicious that this particular group has been weaving its way into my beloved hometown, so I went down to check things out. That is what I originally set out to do, but once I arrived, everything changed and I found a much bigger story.
I randomly bumped into a group that was volunteering their time, we chatted for a bit and then one gentlemen pointed to a young woman and said, “talk to her, she’s in charge here, she runs the show.”
I turned to introduce myself and there she was in the middle of cleaning up and moving some boxes from another event that was going on at the same time, talking to another member of the community, with two other people waiting to speak to her and then me.
To say she was busy, is an understatement, but I desperately wanted to hear what she had to say, and I am so glad I did, she is truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood.
Veronica Román, the woman who took a leap of courage and is fighting everyday to keep Houchen Community Center, alive and thriving. Serving as the facility’s new Executive Director for only the last 4 months, in this short time Veronica has managed to turn things around and has brought new life, new vision to the place that only 4 months prior was getting ready to close it’s doors for good.
Q: Did you know instantly that you wanted to take over the center when they offered you the position of Executive Director?
Román: No, not at first, I was working for a corporation that paid me well, provided benefits, it was not something that I wanted to just throw away. They were going to close down and that broke my heart for them [the community center] but I have three sons, and my oldest is heading to college this fall, I had to think about their future, their needs, so my answer was no.
Q: What made you change your mind?
Román: The day the doors were officially going to close, I was in the area, I came to visit my mom. We came to the center and the media camera trucks were all here, everyone was setting up their equipment and as I watched Cathy [previous director] prepare to give her final statement, something moved me, just a feeling, the thought that the doors could close forever to a place everyone once called home, I couldn’t let that happen. I quickly whispered to a colleague, “I’ll do it, I’ll take the position, tell everyone to go home.” With that, she hugged me and yelled out “WE AREN’T CLOSING OUR DOORS TODAY, EVERYONE GO HOME!”
As my conversation with the director continued, I stayed completely enthralled in her story and what she is doing for the people of Segundo (South El Paso.)
So many heart-breaking stories of young girls that have been left homeless due to circumstance, the immigration raids, etc… BUT equally so many stories of great triumphs, as the collective members of this area, from volunteers, to people bringing in supplies, others reaching out to connect her with those that can help with the vision, together they are building this new era of “community.”
I was genuinely moved and inspired to hear this story.
After I left, I logged on to the Houchen website, and found that the organization’s foundation is based on philanthropic ideals, which is great to hear:
“Houchen was originally started by Mary Tripp who helped young girls to learn English, better ways of sanitation, health and cooking. The young girls were recent arrivals in the United States. Rose Gregory Houchen, a Michigan school teacher, visited Mary Tripp and saw the need for a settlement house. She donated $1000 dollars toward building the house which was completed in 1912 and named for her.”
Clicking through their tabs, I saw the names listed on the Board of Directors and the past presidents, there seems to be less than 25% Latino representation listed in those positions of power, which causes me some concern when I think of the future for this safe haven and why organizations like LIBRE are trying to find their way into El Paso neighborhoods.
However, what puts me at ease is, that I now know who is sitting in at least one of those positions of power and she is FIERCE, authentically and unapologically of the people, for the people!
A strong Latina and an outstanding product of South El Paso’s schools, having attended Douglas Elementary, Guillen Middle School and is a proud Bowie High School graduate.
Truly a servant’s heart; I felt how much love she has for her people, and saw that the love is reciprocated. During the duration of our conversation, people constantly were waving at her through the window, checking in on her, seeing if she needed anything for the upcoming book fair, or the lucha libre event next week, or with the festival they were about to head to where they would also be giving out books to children in need.
I can’t wait to see what great new things will bloom in South El Paso under Román’s leadership, dedication and heart.
Whether it is working on getting funds to continue the mission, or planning the next events, or preparing plans for the upcoming next phase of Houchen Community Center, working with volunteers, mentoring, participating in the decision making process, oh yeah and living her own personal life too…it’s all in a days work for Veronica Román, one of Segundo Barrio’s true ‘Sheroes’.