When asked why Bayside Community Center nominated Ms. Ruiz for the Molina Community Health Champions award, Kim Heinle Bayside Community Advocate responded, “A champion is someone who prioritizes the well-being and progress of the community, an advocate above all else.” Ms. Heinle summarizes Bayside’s goal by saying, “we want to empower our diverse community to assume more leadership roles in the neighborhood. We want to help residents move from civic participants to civic leaders.”
For Tomasa though, there’s more to being a community champion. Her experience as an activist and organizer began when close family friends were threatened with the loss of their daughter due to immigration enforcement action on public transportation in the early 2000’s. Tomasa recalls, “My friend asked me to help spread the word and raise money to help release their daughter who had been detained by immigration while riding the trolley. At that time community organizing wasn’t important to me but I wanted to help.” Reflecting on her initial experience Tomasa recalls, “I saw the need but also the power and the benefit of inviting people to support a cause.”
Later, Ms. Ruiz participated in Bayside Community Center’s Resident Leadership Academy (RLA), a 10 week leadership course designed to help community residents identify the need for and affect positive change in their neighborhood. When asked what drew her to Bayside’s RLA Tomasa shared that is was, “to help her children live a healthier life.” Since graduating from Bayside’s RLA in 2013 Tomasa has participated in and led a variety of important community improvement projects in Linda Vista including; improving lighting in Kelly Street park, installing traffic calming mechanisms around neighborhood schools, facilitating a Women’s Savings group and advocating for new legislation that promotes Urban Agriculture statewide.
Despite her impressive community work family is still Tomasa’s priority. When speaking of her husband, Jose, Tomasa shared, “He has always worked to support us and he knows how happy this work makes me.” And yet while Jose was initially weary of his wife’s community work he has since come to see the benefits of Tomasa’s work both within the community and within the family. Tomasa remarks, “now even he’s getting involved a bit more.” Most recently, Jose has volunteered his construction experience and knowledge to help oversee Bayside staff in a variety of remodeling projects within the new facility.
Tomasa and Jose’s youngest son, Daniel, has also been positively impacted by his mother’s example. Tomasa recalls, “Daniel remembers when he was younger and I used to attend the RLA classes at Bayside.” Since that time, Daniel has often been the youngest participant in many civic meetings held in Linda Vista. Currently, he is a participant of Bayside’s Youth RLA and as of May 1 will be one of the youngest RLA graduates in the county.
When asked how her opinion regarding community organizing has changed since her initial experience Tomasa replied, “I know that if we can work together we can make improvements. It’s been many years and I love it!”
Bayside Community Center looks forward to many more years of working with families and community champions like Tomasa Ruiz. We fully agree with and support her commitment to, “learn everyday how to improve and to keep working.”