Picture of Gail Ortega

Gail Ortega

Gail Ortega was, himself, the subject of an article titled, Gail Ortega takes the helm of Built to Last, which appeared on page 8 in the May - June 2008 edition of East Palo Alto Today.



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A Face in the Crowd: Ruben Abrica

By Gail Ortega
East Palo Alto Today Contributor         
Posted: August 1, 2008

On Sunday, June 29th, my wife Bridgett and I were watching Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) deliver a speech and answer the concerns of Latino voters during the 28th Annual Conference of NALEO, (The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials).

Just as I wondered aloud whether we would see East Palo Alto City Council Member Ruben Abrica in the audience, the camera panned the audience and there was Ruben.

Pic of Ruben Abrica  Upon the secondsighting, I jumped on the cell to   Ruben announcing to him that I was so proud to   know he was in the room during what will become a   monumental occasion with tremendous implications   for the future of our country. Hopefully he has   erased the message by the time this letter is in print.   In the interest of full disclosure I did ask him to get                  me an autograph.

This was not the first time I have seen Ruben on television or tape. Besides, the weekly televised broadcast of the East Palo Alto City Council meetings, Ruben is featured in a historical film about the City of East Palo Alto as one of the organizers that helped East Palo Alto become a city.

Anyone who knows anything about politics in East Palo Alto knows that the experience of democracy with its good, bad and ugly is acted out in the open and at close range making East Palo Alto politics akin to a spectator's sport or event without the popcorn. Some politicians and their supporters, who have found themselves on the losing end of a position or two or three…,hold on to their losses with a certain negative energy akin to bottled poison. These politicians and their hard core supporters find every opportunity to unleash their bottled up poison to spoil the progress of an adversary. Here I define adversary as anyone who has the nerve to continue in public life after taking a position counter to theirs.

One thing that I'm certain of is that in the short time I have known and witnessed Ruben in public life, Ruben does not drink from or offer others to drink from that bottle. To a fault, Ruben is the most humble, caring, giving and forgiving elected official I know. He takes the notion of forgive and forget to a completely different level.

On several occasions I asked Ruben to recommend places to eat that are off the beaten path. Eateries that reveal a different side of the city he loves. It is hard to have uninterrupted time with Ruben in a public place. Everyone says hello and is quick to let me know almost as an apology just how accessible Ruben is to the residents of his town. In true form, Ruben, upon hearing the complements makes every effort to steer the conversation in another direction, any direction but one that sings his praises.

I met Council person Abrica during the time he served as the first
Latino Mayor of the City of East Palo Alto.Taking time from a very
busy schedule, Ruben agreed to serve on the advisory group for the Built to Last Collaborative Planning Grant. Ruben was recommended by members of the executive committee to become one of three school site supervisors during our tumultuous first year.

As we experienced the pains of starting up, Ruben maintained a priestly calm, humbly offering and going beyond the assigned work and schedules in which to perform his assignments.

During the first weeks of the 07/08 school year, the community was shocked to discover by way of the media i.e. bay area radio,
television and news papers that a number of East Palo Alto and
Belle Haven (eastern portion of Menlo Park) students were missing first period classes due to poor scheduling of Sequoia Union High District buses.

While many of us took very conventional paths to address the issues, Ruben did something very unconventional. His unconventional actions have become a hallmark of the Built to Last Collaborative and something we will replicate in the years to come. Ruben visited the families of the students impacted by the scheduling problems. He visited families at their homes during early mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends. He talked with families about ways to ensure their child received the necessary support to move beyond the unusual challenges of the start of the school year. Ruben's home visits became a source of vital information about the home and community lives of our children. His reports revealed so much about the social and
economic challenges faced by our students and their families.

Nationally and locally the Latino community will continue to increase in its potential political influence. On the national level, it is predicted the Latino votes will play a major role in determining our next president of the United States. On the local level the Latino community will influence and shape the future of East Palo Alto, the eastern portion of Menlo Park and the Ravenswood School District.

This political transition will not be easy. Nationally and locally, we will need leaders who will step into the political breach bringing
with them the tools and experience to organize and build collaborations for the common good. Many of the greatest efforts for social change were and will continue to be organized by people who often are nameless. These nameless social change agents seem to always give honor and praise to others while humbly refusing to take the least amount of credit for their own contributions. Ruben is one of these change agents. I am very proud to share this information with the world. We need to know that Ruben is working and serving the local area and, soon, the nation with a strong sense of the common good.

"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly
disguised as impossible situations."
`Charles R. Swindoll

Gail Ortega
Executive Director
The Built to Last Collaborative
Onetta Harris Community Center
100 Terminal Ave,
Menlo Park, CA, 94025
Office: (650) 330-2259