After more than a year of chaos--including the loss of two executive directors and the threat of losing its city funding--the Latino Resource Organization is attempting to turn itself around and is preparing to forge new leadership for Latinos in Santa Monica.
Arturo Olivas, executive director of the organization more commonly known by its acronym LRO, said he hopes to tap into a more active--and demanding--Latino community on the Westside, which last month helped elect Santa Monica's first Latino member of the City Council, Tony Vazquez. Vazquez is a former executive director of the group, which is the only social service agency for Latinos on the Westside.
"We know that there is an affluent Latino community in the Westside," said Olivas, who has been on the job since August. "They are an untapped resource. If they believe their efforts will benefit the Latino community, then they will be supportive."
Olivas, the third executive director of the group since October, 1989, said LRO is striving to operate on a more professional level, which means that its staff will be better paid to reduce turnover, that it will take a more realistic approach to what it can and cannot do, and that it will be more demanding of its share of city resources.
"People around here may not be used to Latinos talking like that, but we are going to be asking for our fair share," he said. "Other social service agencies have looked at LRO as their unofficial outreach component in the Latino community. We cannot continue to be that link for free anymore."
The tough talk is a complete turnaround from six months ago when LRO officials were pleading with city officials to fully fund the program's $110,000 request during the adoption of the 1990-91 city budget.
The city provides more than half of the group's nearly $200,000 annual budget. The remainder of its budget comes from private donations and foundation grants. Because of its problems in the past year--including two separate three-month periods without an executive director--the city's staff recommended that the City Council approve funding for only two months.
LRO supporters crowded City Hall in June and persuaded the City Council to fund the organization for at least six months, with a review at the end of that period to determine if the group would get funded for the remaining six months.
LRO board member Richard Maullin said that the two-month funding likely would have meant the end of the organization, which has an office in the Third Street Promenade.
"It would have been just enough money to shut down, to finish its business affairs," said Maullin, of Fairbanks, Bregman & Maullin, a public opinion and market research firm with offices in Santa Monica and San Francisco.
"At the time we were reviewing the budget it was clear that there were areas where the organization had significant weaknesses," said Councilman Dennis Zane. "The wise thing to do was to be demanding and tough so as to stimulate them to bring in people with some experience to straighten out the problems. They just needed more time than staff had recommended."
Julie Rusk, the city's human resources coordinator, said LRO, which incorporated in 1983, provides needed services in the Latino community, but that she made the recommendation to fund the group for two months because there was some question about whether the group was continuing to provide those services because of its changes in leadership.
Rusk said she is in the process of evaluating LRO's progress and expects to make a recommendation to the City Council next month on whether the group should be funded for the next six months.
Kandi Reyes, president of LRO's board of directors, said despite the changes in leadership, none of the organization's services were interrupted. LRO provides several educational programs for children and parents, sponsors a senior citizens club for Latinos, and serves as an information and referral service for Spanish-speaking residents.
On Dec. 16, the group will distribute 400 baskets of food and toys as part of its Navidad en El Barrio program. The 400 baskets are expected to serve more than 1,400 needy adults and children.
Reyes said the group's problems began after Vazquez resigned as executive director in October, 1989, to take another job. The board took three months to find a replacement, but the new executive director abruptly resigned in April for personal reasons.
"He left two days before the proposal for funding was due to the city," said Reyes.
Reyes said the group felt some pressure by city officials to quickly find another executive director, and after securing city funding for at least six months, the board hired Olivas in August.
Since then, Olivas has been working to restore LRO's credibility in the city, and take the group to a new level of activism in the community. Last Sunday, the group conducted a computerized survey of the Latino community to help determine the effects of its programs and what needs are unmet.
Olivas said that the election of Vazquez to the City Council will help educate city officials about the problems and needs of the Latino community, but that more is needed.
"They can't give us one seat on the City Council and say, 'W are meeting your needs,' " Olivas said. "We want people to know that Latinos are part of the fabric of Santa Monica."