Civic Engagement - Leading by Example

The National Latino Research Center (NLRC) at California State University San Marcos has been studying Latino civic engagement as a central initiative funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).  The NLRC has created Universidad Popular – Cultivando Liderazgo (People’s University – Cultivating Leadership), which offers civic engagement and leadership development to the community. This year showed what grassroots leadership looks like on the ground.

In collaboration with dozens of bilingual volunteers, Flor “Flower” Alvarez has partnered with the San Diego Registrar of Voters to recruit, train and deploy over 60 community volunteers to run 25 precincts throughout North County on June 5, 2018.

In addition to being a student at CSUSM, Flower spends countless hours working with individuals and families who are facing challenges. She is the co-founder of the Homie UP program – Semillas de Libertad (Seeds of Liberation), which provides educational support to individuals who are incarcerated and post-release support to help them find a pathway to education and work. She teaches and facilitates opportunities for engagement and empowerment.

Flower explains, “It is an honor to work with community members who are trying to change the world. It makes it all worth it - the loss of sleep, the long nights that turn into long weeks and then years, and then dealing with the aftermath and having to console the distress in our community. It’s home.”

Leading up to election day, Flower recruited experienced and new volunteer poll workers, conducted informal training to prepare first-time volunteers, and created entire bilingual precinct boards to ensure all voters enjoyed the best experience voting through friendly and welcoming volunteers. She also ensured everyone completed the required trainings, and understood roles and expectations for each assignment. Flower has a talent for reaching and supporting diverse group of volunteers.

Many college and university students joined the ranks of volunteers. On Election Day, they had the opportunity to see democracy in action, making the teachings from government class come to life.

Flower worked with the Amity Foundation Vista Ranch to involve a group of Homie UP students who have been justice involved. This group included individuals who registered to vote, voted, and then volunteered with elections for the first time in their lives. They fulfilled important civic duties and made their voice heard by voting. One Homie UP student said, “Working as a poll worker was a life-changing experience. I realized that voting matters because voters elect people who make laws.”

She led the inclusion of dozens of new citizens who completed their naturalization process as part of the Universidad PopularCultivando Liderazgo. They voted for the first time in the United States and also volunteered as poll workers.

Ana

Ana, a teacher, said, “We helped about 100 people navigate the voting process which is often too complicated especially for elders and first-time voters.”

The work involved being a poll worker often goes unnoticed because so much happens behind the scenes. They usually wake up at 4am to carpool and travel to designated locations, haul voting materials, set up polling places, ensure prompt opening of the polling place at 7am, and wait for the voters to arrive to welcome them with friendly smiles.

This nonpartisan activity means that they help each and every voter that walks through the doors. They remain on-site until the polls close at 8pm. Then they secure and drop off all voting materials at designated locations, which are then transported to the San Diego Registrar of Voters headquarters.

Why do they volunteer as poll workers?

Despite volunteering for an 18-hour day, poll workers are passionate supporters of democracy and want to ensure every voter is treated with dignity and respect as they exercise this important civic duty.

For her leadership and commitment with the Registrar of Voters, Flower received an award by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors as the Volunteer of the Month on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

To join the team of volunteers for the November 6 election, contact Flower at falvarez@csusm.edu.

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