When I profiled Anadelia Lamas seven years ago I admit I was smitten with her. Hard not to be. She’s engaging, self-effacing, talented, and attractive without trying to be. The profile appeared not too long into her tenure as South Omaha Weed and Seed Coordinator. She’s since married, hence her name now being Anadelia Lamas Morgan, and she’s moved to a new job – as development director and outreach coordinator at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She’s all about family and community and for a still young woman she’s made and continues making a tremendous difference in the South Omaha Latino barrio that is her life. She’s one of those human dynamos who’s seemingly always in motion, involved here, there, everywhere, getting things done and making things happen.
A Young Latina’s Ubridled Energy Making a Difference in Her Community
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
Unbridled energy. That’s what South Omaha Weed and Seed Coordinator Anadelia Lamas, a stunning, vivacious, bilingual Latina with an avowed goal of being “a key player” in the poor, mostly Spanish-speaking community she serves, radiates. From the salsa lilt in her voice to the dramatic ways she screws up her face to the animated gestures she uses to make a point, she practically pulsates with a palpable enthusiasm and vitality. She’s a blur of emotion, movement, expression.
For Lamas, realizing her federal program’s mandate of making at-risk urban neighborhoods like hers safer and stronger means attending to “the simple things.” That finds her turning on the charm at neighborhood association gatherings and Cinco De Mayo festivities in her mission to get residents on board with Weed and Seed enrichment initiatives. Those initiatives include organizing clean-up efforts and neighborhood watch groups, getting people to access health-human service agencies, delivering intervention-prevention messages and working with police and residents to weed-out chronic problems like gang graffiti and vehicular speeding.
She’s working with the police’s gang unit and with neighborhood associations to start-up a graffiti task-force.
More beat patrols have come to the barrio to improve police-community relations. Using her fluency in Spanish and her immersion in Latino culture, she tries building rapport and trust with newcomers leery of anything smacking of government.
“It’s just really important to have a common ground and familiarity with people. It makes them feel comfortable that I not only speak Spanish, but share a love for the culture. I love the music. I love the colors. I love the people. I don’t really like to send out mailers. I’d rather walk around and talk to people at events or in their own homes. Besides, people are kind of familiar with my face,” she says, referring to her singing as a member of the now disbanded Las Palomas mariachi band and as an actress with the Teatro Mestizo community theater troupe. Over the summer, she’s been laying down tracks on her first solo CD. “I get a lot of ‘Aren’t you that girl?” ‘Yeah,’ I tell them, ‘but I’m not doing that right now,’” she says, laughing freely, her lush hair tumbling fetchingly over her brow.
Named to her Weed and Seed post in February 2003, Lamas, 25, feels she’s landed in the right spot. “I wanted this position because it just seemed to fit me…I’m a nurturing person. I love to help people and I love to make a difference. Sometimes, a little too much. I get a little too involved with other people’s problems. I’m a very interactive, social person and I just feed from that energy. When I have an idea and it goes through, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ I was afraid at first, but it’s all about facing the challenges and being somewhat fearless,” she says, looking determined.
Not one to back away from challenges, Lamas, who, minus any preparation, completed the 2002 Chicago Marathon in 4 1/2 hours, understands Weed and Seed cannot work overnight miracles. “It’s a slow process. It’s focusing on endurance. I feel like I already have made a difference in making sure people know about the program.” She organized a July 31 Night Light event — an annual block party dedicated to uniting the community against violence — that drew some 600 people, many of whom she’d handed fliers during her outreach canvassing. “It’s more impactful when you personally invite people,” she says. What will make or break the program, she adds, is how much people buy into its neighborhood restoration concept. “They’re the key to having a greater community. It’s getting them to care and want to make a difference.” Towards that end, she’s planning events for youths and adults that emphasize community and that celebrate the area’s cultural diversity, including a growing Sudanese population.
When Lamas got the job, eyebrows were raised about her relative youth. “I don’t find it’s hindered me. People have been very open to me in any type of situation. I think maybe an advantage I have is people don’t find me intimidating. I’m a down-to-earth person. And I do have a lot of energy and ideas.” Then there’s her caring, which transcends age. She’s still haunted by a voice mail plea for help from a woman in marital strife. “She said, ‘I heard you solve problems,’ but she didn’t leave a number or a name. I panicked because I couldn’t do anything about it. I left that message there for about a month. It’s hard for me to see somebody in trouble and not do something about it. Little by little, I’m making the connections so that if I don’t know how to help you, I’m going to find somebody that can,” vows Lamas, seemingly poised to run after her next reclamation project. Catch her if you can.
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Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
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