“What she brings to the table is Rosalinda is connected to the community and she’s extremely connected to the kids,” said Mayor Bell. “That is her attribute and so we really want to see that be successful.”
“I want to make it thrive, said Ms. Contreraz. “I don’t think it’s ever really gone away. It’s always been on everyone’s heart. Unfortunately, due to budget issues, it had to go away for a minute. But as far as projects and programming, we’ve been doing as much as we possibly can.”
Ms. Contreraz had worked previously as an administrative specialist with the youth commission when Robert Torres was the executive director. The youth commission was defunded in 2008 during a city budget crisis. Ms. Contreraz then transferred to the Dept. of Neighborhoods as a secretary, but she stated she was “always doing special projects.”
“You can take away the youth commission, but it doesn’t necessarily leave you,” said Ms. Contreraz. “If that’s something you love to do, you’re going to do it.”
She had volunteered with the youth commission for a year, then contracted with the city to conduct a Community Mentors for Youth program. She also serves on the board of directors at The Friendly Center and has worked with a local foster grandparent program.
“I tried to find somebody after watching for about a year or so that really connects with kids and she does that very well,” said the mayor. “She was doing it voluntarily and so if you can put somebody into their niche, I think it’s a good thing.”
Ms. Contreraz had volunteered with Partners in Education while working at Libbey Glass and started a program called Esperanza where she taught GED classes at St. Hedwick Parish and School after helping with GED classes for kids who did not speak English. She also has worked with youth programs extensively at Gospel Tabernacle where husband Morlon Harris is the pastor.
Ms. Contreraz also volunteers with kids in the Hispanic Youth Alliance. She served as a bilingual parent and family coordinator with both Adelante, Inc. and United North community development corporation.
“They’re our future and my goodness, everything we do counts on them,” she said. “It’s going to take the right direction, the right people in place to mentor, and make sure they’re on the right path. It’s not just about us teaching them, but them teaching us.”
Ms. Contreraz made a reference to the ability of kids to let grownups know what they need and what their culture is and the guidance they require from adults. She stated her struggles as a single mom for several years has given her insight into relating to youth on their level.
“From dealing with the schools to afterschool programs, dealing with travel, and what there is out there for youth in the summer, I’ve seen it all firsthand,” said Ms. Contreraz. “We’re going to try to be the umbrella and bring some of these services together, so it’s not so difficult for the parents to find what they need here in Toledo, because we’re a diamond in the rough.”
“Wherever we’re going with it, we need to coordinate it with council,” the mayor emphasized.
The new youth commission director stated the community has a lot to offer kids, but sometimes does a poor job of marketing its availability.
Ms. Contreraz is mother to seven children: Frankie, 23; Jessica, 22; Eva, 21; Jasmine, 19; Rosalinda, 18; Indigo, 16; and Antonio, 15. Another son passed away when he was 15 years old in a drowning accident.
She stated she “hasn’t even thought about” being another Latina appointed to a top city post, because there have been a number of Latina leaders who work in the upper echelons of city and county government.
“That hasn’t even hit me,” said Ms. Contreraz. “I’m just excited for the opportunity, very happy the mayor feels confidence. I’m going to do my best and work hard for the youth.”
Her biggest problem may be money. With Toledo’s economy continuing to struggle and the mayor’s office trying to maintain basic city services, there won’t be any city government funding for youth programs available.
“Because there’s budgetary issues, I think we need to really rely on the private sector, as well as the public sector to collaborate and coordinate to make these programs work and take them into the community,” said Ms. Contreraz.
“There’s funding issues and I think we need to be able to put money into our kids. They’re our future and if we put money into them now, it actually protects a lot of things in the future. We’re probably going to have some pretty good discussions on that to figure out where we need to go. We’ll expand it as far as necessary to make sure our kids feel like they’re part of this community and we make them successful by the actions that we do.”
The re-energized youth commission is off to a quick start. The city agency is co-sponsoring “Taste of Diversity”, an event featuring ethnic food provided by local restaurants, ethnic music and spoken-word poetry, cultural dances and skits, as well as family activities.
There also will be a youth talent showcase during the event, to be held Saturday, March 30, 2012, 4-8 p.m., at the Frederick Douglass Community Center, 1001 Indiana Ave. Tickets are $3.