Social Services Center renamed in Skorepa’s honor & Lisa Cuestas becomes Executive Director
On Saturday, July 23rd Casa Familiar commemorated Andrea Skorepa’s thirty five years of service as Executive Director by renaming their Social Services Center in her honor. Next month, the long-time border advocate will retire from the non-profit organization.
Often known as the “Queen of San Ysidro,” Skorepa started out as a community organizer for VISTA in El Paso, Texas. Those were the days when Chicanos and Chicanas were following in the footsteps of Cesar Chavez. Skorepa returned to San Ysidro with the skills necessary to become a lifelong community organizer.
At first, she began teaching kindergarten, but soon helped create a teacher’s union. By 1981 she applied for the Executive Director position at Casa Familiar. The main focus for Skorepa was getting the community of San Ysidro civically engaged.
As she looks back on the last thirty-five years, Skorepa says her most important achievement is that people have pride living in San Ysidro. She’s also proud of “always being ahead of the curve–designing programs, services and events that rock the boat, turn the boat over or send the boat home.”
Whether it’s pollution created at the San Ysidro Port of Entry due to wait times, pressing for more parkland in San Ysidro or establishing an art gallery where most people wouldn’t think to have one, Andrea’s out-of-the-box approach has had a lasting impact.
Moreover, over three decades Skorepa brought affordable housing to the South Bay. Casa Familiar has 451 units at Park Haven and another over 300 units in Villa Nueva. They also have affordable housing for seniors and continue to urge the city to increase affordable units.
Next month when Skorepa retires, her legacy will continue when Lisa Cuestas, a Casa Familiar employee for sixteen years, takes the helm.
Cuestas is proud “Casa Familiar is an organization that speaks effectively on what happens at the border and what the community wants to see happen at the border. Because we’re impacted by that every single day.”
She’s particularly proud of their grassroots Promotora Program that started over ten years ago. At that time, the goal was to get people conscious of their health.
It was a family approach, but Cuestas says, “Naturally in the community of San Ysidro, the women and the mothers of the household are usually the ones to engage.”
The Promotoras women started to ask how their environment, their buildings and their infrastructure affected their health. “And before you know it, they themselves started to say, ‘There’s no sidewalk. That effects my health. There’s no sidewalk to the high school. That’s affecting my child’s health. We need more parks. That affects my health. As a result, we’ve been able to make some huge leaps in infrastructure needs here in San Ysidro with the help of residents.’”
Once Cuestas begins as Executive Director in August, she wants to strengthen the relationships Casa has built and continue to engage the community, especially the youth.
“I want to see more young people at our Sin Limites. I want to see more young people at The Front. I want to see our after school programs and our summer camps even bigger…I’m excited about the potential of a Surf Camp by next summer. We want to explore different ways to present STEAM to the community in a really fun way for the kids.”
On her view of leadership, Cuestas says, “You’ve got to lead with the heart and you’ve got to go 110% in.”
Casa Familiar remains a leading advocacy and civic engagement organization in San Diego, in particular for Latino families.
The author of this piece, Barbara Zaragoza, was Casa Familiar’s 2015 Abrazo Award winner for her history and reporting on San Ysidro.
For more, read Maria Garcia’s biography of this important member of our San Diego community: Andrea Palacio Skorepa: From VISTA Volunteer to Casa Familiar CEO