If you live or work in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, there’s a good chance you know Maria Cortez. A 47-year resident of City Heights, Maria tirelessly advocates for her community, actively leading and participating in a number of community organizations and coalitions including the City Heights Community Development Corporation, the Teralta West Neighborhood Alliance, City Heights Town Council, City Heights Area Planning Committee, and Mid-City CAN, to name a few. She can also be found on the campus of Franklin Elementary, where she’s worked for 28 years. When asked how she finds the time to contribute to so many groups and organizations, she simply replies “because I care about my community.”
Maria first crossed paths with SAY San Diego about 20 years ago when she was helping her neighbors with a tenant rights issue. Maria was determined to take action when an apartment building in her neighborhood was in a terrible state. Residents were subjected to a long list of unacceptable conditions including broken appliances, leaking pipes, rat droppings, and more. SAY San Diego staff were well versed in tenant rights and were able to provide advice to Maria and apartment residents. Armed with knowledge of their rights, residents were empowered to work with the San Diego Police Department and Code Enforcement, ultimately leading to the landlord bringing the building up to code.
In the years since, Maria has worked with SAY on a variety of projects and issues including neighborhood clean-ups, liquor store and market compliance checks, and ensuring that local businesses are up to code and not engaging in illicit activity. Maria says that SAY’s knowledge is invaluable. “Working with SAY is wonderful. They educate residents about what to look for at the local markets. We know to check for signage indicating that they require valid ID for tobacco and alcohol, and to make sure that alcohol is not at eye level for children. They taught us how to work with an establishment for the benefit of the community and helped us feel empowered to speak up and report a violation. Because of SAY, we feel like we have a voice.”
Maria is thankful to have SAY San Diego as a partner in the community she loves so much. “SAY’s doors are always open. They do such a great job of bringing everyone together to clean up our neighborhoods and improve our community. SAY staff have become family.” SAY and the City Heights community are lucky to have a passionate advocate in Maria, whose dedication to her neighborhood is unmatched.
ABC 10 News recently highlighted Play 4 SAY 2019, coming up on July 25. SAY San Diego President & CEO, Nancy Gannon Hornberger, and Zach Millrood, Senior VP of Hughes Marino, spoke with Virginia Cha about Play 4 SAY and sampled delicious tastings from Empanada Kitchen, a featured food donor at the event.
SAY was recognized by the San Diego County Office of Education for its dedication to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEAM) education in our after school programs. Thank you to SAY’s Donna Wilson, Hope Wolfe, Marissa Lujan, and all of the STEAM leaders for your hard work and commitment to this important initiative! Congrats!
Angie works as a Case Manager at SAY San Diego’s Crawford Community Connection (CCC), a school-based family resource center located on the campus of Crawford High School in Mid City. Some of Angie’s many responsibilities include matching students and families within the Crawford community with the services they need, organizing the yearly Prom Drive and New Arrival Scholarship events, and overseeing on-campus youth leadership programs.
Though Angie is relatively new to SAY’s staff team, she’s a veteran of the organization. While attending Hoover High School in City Heights, Angie was a student leader with SAY’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Prevention program. She spent all four years in high school helping to educate and engage the community about drug and alcohol abuse prevention through town halls, media events, City Council meetings, and other initiatives. Angie says her experience with the youth leadership program helped prepare her for the future. “By the 10th grade I was learning public speaking skills, how to write a media release, and how to interact with people from all facets of life. Those skills helped me stand out in college applications.”
Angie was the first person from her family to attend college. While at UCSD, she remained dedicated to public service, acting as a success coach and mentor to other first-generation college students. After graduation, Angie took an office job where she had limited interaction with others. It was during this time that she recognized how much she enjoys helping others and engaging with the community – a realization that brought her back to SAY and the City Heights community.
Angie is thankful to be back living and working in the community she grew up in. “I love this area and can resonate with the population. I’ve been in their shoes. I tell students regardless of what you are going through now, you’re going to be ok.” One of her fondest moments was the time she was able to be a sounding board to a female Crawford student who just needed an adult female to talk to; a woman who would listen without judgement. “There seems to be a need for female mentors who can lend an ear, and I’m happy to be there for students who want to be heard.”
SAY San Diego is proud to have people like Angie on our team. She is a model for how SAY’s youth leadership opportunities can benefit both the student and those they engage with later on. She is just one example of the many staff members who provide critical support to clients and community members who need it most.
SAY San Diego is deeply grateful to have benefited from the insights and hard work of our two Board Fellows, Alicia Arambula, SDSU MSW candidate, and Tina Brilli, SDSU MBA candidate. They provided us with research, analysis, and recommendations for our organizational priority of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. It was SAY’s second year participating in this excellent program, organized and implemented by the Social Policy Institute at SDSU School of Social Work, which matches second year graduate students with nonprofits.
Bob Waller loves to teach. That’s why after a 39-year career in the business world, followed by a second career teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Bob is only semi-retired. He still teaches ESL part time and also volunteers twice a week as a homework helper at one of SAY San Diego’s after school programs. Bob says, “I keep volunteering because of the students. They are so smart and fun to be around. I love that they treat each other equally and don’t see differences. It’s refreshing.”
Bob could easily kick up his feet and relax in the afternoons, but instead he chooses to spend every Tuesday and Thursday helping kids in SAY’s after school program complete their homework. While he admits he’s not an expert in New Math, he’s always available to provide much needed homework help to any child who needs or wants it. It’s not uncommon to see several kids rush over to him at study time, which makes him feel appreciated. And he’s making a difference.
Student success stories motivate Bob to keep volunteering. He remembers one student a few years ago who was always struggling in school and had disciplinary issues. Bob started working with the student regularly and helped focus her energy on school work. It didn’t take long for the student to become more interested in her homework than acting out. Currently, Bob is helping a second grader catch up to his peers. “The kids are very bright. Sometimes they just get a little behind. It feels good when I can help bring them back into the fold.”
Beyond loving his volunteer experience, Bob enjoys being part of SAY San Diego and is a fan of the staff. “I have nothing but good things to say about everyone that I’ve worked with. SAY is a very well-run organization and a nice place to be two days a week.”
With nearly 4,000 students in SAY San Diego’s before and after school programs, we are fortunate to have dedicated volunteers like Bob who help our kids succeed every day.
To celebrate Month of the Military Child, SAY’s Healthy Start Military Family Resource Center worked with Grandma Sparky to provide a Blue Ribbon Ceremony honoring students at a local elementary school comprised of 95% military children. Grandma Sparky motivates youth to understand that they make a difference in their community and pushes them to reach their dreams.
SAY San Diego has begun a new partnership with the San Diego Family Justice Center (FJC) this month. The FJC, operated by the San Diego City Attorney’s office, provides an array of needed support services for victims and survivors of family violence. SAY’s child development team will assist with their on-site Child Watch, and as a referral resource for their clients. During National Child Abuse Prevention month, we are pleased to further expand this central focus of SAY’s mission, in the area of child well-being, child abuse prevention, and family strengthening.
For more information, please contact Chris Jewell, VP of Child and Youth Development: