Valle del Sol Profiles of Success Honoree

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We’ll talk to Terri Leon, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Program Officer, the recipient of the Raul Yzaguirre Community Leadership Award at the 2012 Valle del Sol’s Profiles of Success Hispanic Leadership Awards.

José Cárdenas: Valle Del Sol, a nonprofit organization that has been providing behavioral health, human service, and leadership development programs to build strong families, recently honored 11 Hispanic leaders at their annual Profiles of Success Hispanic leadership awards banquet. One honoree was Terri Leon. Terri was the recipient for the Raul Yzaguirre Community Leadership Award. Joining me is Terri Leon, Virginia G. Piper charitable trust program officer. I should mention I'm on the piper board but had nothing to do with your selection as a recipient of the award. Give us some background about you.

Terri Leon: Well, I'm a fifth generation Arizonan. I've lived here most of my life. My father is from Arizona. My father is from Yuma. I'm real proud of my father's family. We can trace it back five generations. My great-grandfather happened to be an Arizona territorial legislator in the fifth and sixth Arizona Legislature, and he also was appointed to the first Arizona school board Association. When he was in the legislation, He was chair of the education committee a value he's held all of his life, as well as agricultural committee, because he comes from a family of farm workers. They did farming. Those were two important committees for him to chair because of how they impacted his life. He saw the value of education and passed it on for the last five generations.

José Cárdenas: And passed on specifically to you as well.

Terri Leon: Yeah and also my father actually my grandfather was a graduate in 1901 from the U. of A. My father graduated from the U. of A. and also got a Master's degree. All of us, all of my siblings, have advanced degrees.

José Cárdenas: You put yours to work at one of the leading Human Services organizations in the valley, and that's friendly house. Tell us about your experiences there.

Terri Leon: I served at friendly house as the chief operating officer. I was there for 10 years. Before that, I worked in public education working in high schools with student retention and primarily Latino students. Before that, I was in a mid-management position with Catholic charities. I was in human service my entire career. Serving at friendly house took me to a new level in my ability to really serve the community, working with the staff and working with the community to make sure that we were meeting the needs that needed to be met.

José Cárdenas: And that included becoming involved in the litigation of S-B 10-70.

Terri Leon: During my tenure with friendly house, friendly became the lead plaintiff to fight against the alleged civil rights violations. Serving the community for 92 years at that time, there was no other organization, I believe, in the community that was as well positioned to take the lead.

José Cárdenas: Well, part of friendly house history is serving immigrants.

Terri Leon: Right. It was originally established as part of the settlement house movement in 1920 which the whole purpose was to welcome immigrants into the country, help them with the adjustment process, teach them English, help them find jobs and also work on their immigration paperwork. The organization continues to do that today, so it seemed to me very appropriate that friendly house service be the lead plaintiff.

José Cárdenas: It was all immigrants, not originally focused on Hispanics.

Terri Leon: No, It was immigrants from all over the world.

José Cárdenas: What was the nature of your involvement in the litigation, you personally as a representative of friendly house?

Terri Leon: During that time, in 2010, the organization was going through a period of transition. The former CEO had retired, and I was serving as the interim CEO. At the time was when everything was happening, when the governor had signed the bill into law, and there was -- the organization challenged, along with many organizations -- challenged the civil rights, stating it was a violation of civil rights. It was challenged in the court. At that time, serving as the interim leader, my role was to stand up and speak out on behalf of the immigrants whose rights were being violated. I took that really seriously, José, because we had been serving the community for 92 years. We really earned the trust of our clients that we served, and I really felt that we couldn't let them down at this time when it was so critical.

José Cárdenas: Initially the lawsuit was successful. It got an injunction. Ironically, this week, the injunction's been dissolved and enforcement at least of one critical part of the legislation will go forward. How do you feel about that?

Terri Leon: Well, it's unfortunate. I think it puts more pressure on us now as a community to really watch carefully to document carefully and build a case, if these violations do occur, which I believe they will, we were prepared to adequately defend them in the courts.

José Cárdenas: Now, through your years of service to the Hispanic community was the basis of your receipt of this award and particularly your involvement in the SB 70 litigation. Let's talk a little about the award itself. Tell us about Raul a little bit, and then let's talk about the basis for you getting the award.

Terri Leon: Raul is one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time, I believe. He was the founder of national Counsel, la rasa, a national civil rights organization, and really focused on Latino rights and issues that impacted the community. He retired and, when he retired, he came to Arizona and actually served here at Arizona state university as part of the community development civil rights center. And that center really focuses on ensuring that building a bridge between the relationship with the university and the Latino community, and so they focus on programs like -- that would focus on programs that would recruit Latino students, retain students. One of their top-notch programs is the American dream academy. They really worked with students; reached out to students, brought them to the university, got them exposed to the university in ways that probably they never would otherwise.

José Cárdenas: We've got about a minute left in the show. Tell us what it meant to you to receive this award.

Terri Leon: Raul is a great civil rights leader, and the young lady that nominated me for this position, she was Raul's personal assistant for many years when he worked here at the university and also did work for him when he was with NCLR. So to be nominated by somebody who worked so closely with him, to me that was a real honor, so I really appreciate the vote of confidence. Raul was a great leader, and I certainly don't feel like I come close to filling his shoes. But it was just a real honor in my role at friendly house because I feel, as an organization, they did fill those shoes, and I was very proud to be a part of that.

José Cárdenas: Congratulations to you for getting the award, and thank you for joining us. Terri Leon.

Terri Leon:Program Officer, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust;

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