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Residents, Latinos await fate of Perrysburg Heights Community Assoc. And the August festival

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

Neighborhood residents and PHCA supporters showed up Monday evening, June 24, 2013 for what they thought would be the monthly meeting of the Perrysburg Heights Community Association board of trustees, which was normally held the 4th Monday of every month, starting at 7:00PM. But the ten people in attendance found the doors locked at the community center and no sign on the door indicating the meeting had been canceled.

The immediate future of the Perrysburg Heights Community Association (PHCA) and the group’s annual Ohio South of the Border Festival has remained in a state of confusion and controversy for nearly a month.

“There’s not another meeting scheduled, said Steve Kramer, acting board president. “We hope to have another one scheduled within the next six days.”

Leticia Costilla


Kramer explained that the monthly meeting was moved up about a week in favor of an emergency board meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening, June 18. But that gathering was abruptly canceled.

A sign hung on the door of the Perrysburg Heights community center stated the June 18th meeting originally scheduled for 7 p.m. was canceled “due to recent developments” but offered no specifics. One board member told La Prensa that the board’s vice president stopped by her home to inform her of the meeting cancellation at approximately 4:30 p.m., citing threats received via email by some of the board’s members.

“Not to me—I haven’t had any threats made,” said board member Teresia Buck, 55, who grew up and still resides in the Perrysburg Heights neighborhood. “He showed me nothing.”

According to Ms. Buck, acting board president Steve Kramer left abruptly after she questioned the validity of those threats.

“He just got a mean look on his face and stomped off,” she said.

“Some of the board members were concerned for his or her safety. There were threats made,” said Kramer in a phone interview. He refused to elaborate on what type or in what form. He also had no knowledge of whether a police report was or would be filed. Kramer also explained that a majority of the board reached “a consensus” to cancel the meeting as a precaution “for safety’s sake.” Kramer stated the meeting would be rescheduled but he did not know when.

On June 18th, a group of more than 40 Latinos and other neighborhood residents peacefully milled about outside the community center just after 7 p.m. under the watchful eye of three Perrysburg Twp. police officers stationed in cruisers along Jefferson St. The police cars departed the scene about 30 minutes later without incident.

Ms. Buck and fellow board member David Humbarger, 29, remained outside the community center for a time, speaking with confused and upset community members who fear the loss of the 22-year old organization that has helped generations of children succeed in school and sports.

“I think these people want to stand up for their community,” she said. “This is their community. Their kids are here. This is their generation. They want to come together. This is family’s coming together. This isn’t just one race. This is all races. We’re standing up and saying ‘Help us. We need help out here.’”

“With all the people out here, it’s just amazing to see everyone come together,” said Humbarger. “This is all going downhill quick.”

But the two board members stated the crowd that had gathered would just strengthen their resolve as individual board members to do everything they can to help.

“I’m staying on this board. If I stay on this board, at least I’ll know what’s going on,” she said. “I’m at least one voice in the community.”

“They’re just ruining it for the kids, to help them in school and all kinds of stuff,” said Humbarger of the brewing controversy involving other board members.

He recalled serving at the festival since he was a young kid and fondly remembered how his older sister Jennifer was awarded a college scholarship through PHCA.

At a meeting in late May, the board of trustees voted behind closed doors to remove one of their colleagues—co-founder Anita Sánchez-Serda—but refuse to cite publicly some specific wrongdoing. Board member Sánchez-Serda also had been serving as the festival coordinator.

“I was mad. I was furious when they pulled her off,” said Ms. Buck of the board’s vote to oust PHCA co-founder Sánchez-Serda from the board. “Anita is my friend. She’ll be my friend until the day I die.” 

Her daughter Stephanie Serda later resigned as board president and executive director.

Some people in both crowd expressed concern that the canceled meetings further placed this year’s festival in jeopardy. Many are concerned PHCA is running out of time to plan events, secure vendors, and get contracts signed. Kramer had told La Prensa that the board intended to decide whether or not to host the festival, which is scheduled to be held in the second week of August.

Kramer admitted there is “a time crunch” to put together the festival. But he indicated the Serdas had turned over “computer records” to an intermediary to help keep the festival moving forward, although he had not seen what they entailed nor had he picked them up. He has called them “cooperative” despite the brewing controversy over the festival.

Leticia Costilla spent the past two weeks going door-to-door in Perrysburg Heights collecting about 130 signatures on a petition seeking the resignation of PHCA treasurer and board member Harold Jason Craig. The petition states that the people who sign believe he is not representing the best interests of the predominantly Latino neighborhood.

“I want to help our community and take back what was originally ours in the beginning,” she said. “I feel that he’s not really for the neighborhood. He’s talked really bad about people, their children, and the whole neighborhood. I think he just wants power. I feel he tried to push out the two good things we had going here—Anita and her daughter Stephanie.”

Ms. Costilla, 33, stated she “was born and raised there” and has fond memories of playing and helping at the community center as a child. She remained in the neighborhood and her two sons, 11 and 10, now participate in the center’s many programs. She called Ms. Sánchez-Serda a “person who cares about her community.”

“As far as Stephanie is concerned, you couldn’t pick someone better to supervise your children,” she said. “She treated the kids like they were her own kids. I want to see the community take this back. I want to see the center open back up. I want to see Stephanie run it again. I want to see the kids get everything they can get from it. Stephanie helps the kids who need help (with homework) and encourages them.”

Ms. Costilla called the community center “a community treasure” and no longer thinks the board of trustees has their best interests at heart.

“They’re scared. They know what we have and what we’re coming after them with,” she said.

Craig could not be reached for comment. Kramer called the petition effort to oust Craig “not valid.” He also reiterated the board has no intention of harming the future of the organization, the festival, or the community center.

“The vast majority of the board members want the Perrysburg Heights Community Association to stay open, to continue, to thrive, and no one has any plans of shutting it down,” he said.

But there have been financial problems at the non-profit organization, stemming from tough economic times and the festival operating at a loss over the past three years. The non-profit runs on an annual budget of approximately $130,000. The board is continuing to seek donations to keep the community center open and staffed by volunteers.

Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/25/13 19:19:14 -0700.




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