Alma Vargas


“Just Doing Good” in the City of Compton

Though located in the neighboring community of Paramount, Alma Vargas jokes about her office that, “Hey – when you walk in here, you’re stepping into the city of Compton!”

No doubt many citizens of Compton would grant her that honorary residency.  As the main liaison representing the Compton Initiative (CI) to the city, she has won the hearts of everyone from the school board superintendent and principals to individual homeowners.  The CI is a partnership among organizations and churches that hosts 4 work days a year to“just do good” in the city.  On an average work day, 1600-1800 volunteers, from in and outside of Compton, gather to clean up and paint at least 2 schools and 12-13 properties.  Before that can happen, someone has to meet with home owners and school principals and city council officials to determine the best work sites.  Someone has to access the site needs and decide what kinds of skilled labor will be needed, to communicate with the guys heading up the labor crews, then to communicate back to the site, and to the warehouse manager, and so on.  Someone has to shepherd the process the entire way through — that shepherd is Alma.

Alma started with the Initiative as a volunteer, working alongside her husband, Carlos.  She soon became so excited about the changes happening in Compton, that she began rethinking her career. She eventually left behind her years as a nurse to serve the non-profit full time, a decision she’s never regretted.

Alma’s love for her job is obvious — her passion for the rebirthing of Compton is contagious.  She says the residents of Compton are her inspiration.  “I’ve met homeowners who have stuck it out here through everything – through riots, through city corruption.  They see the changes taking place in Compton, and they have hope that this city can have life again.  That’s my motivation — seeing a city filled with hope!”

In her early days with the Initiative, Alma spent hours walking the streets each week, trying to find home owners who were willing to participate in the program.  In a day when even the safest sounding deal can turn out to be a scam, having someone offer to paint the outside of your home for free can seem suspect.  But Alma has a warm smile and cheerful enthusiasm that quickly puts others at ease.  Everything about her tiny frame invites people to trust her.

It’s a wise decision to do so.  Alma’s reputation for being honest, upfront, and reliable is one she’s earned.  If the Compton Initiative can’t do something, she’ll look you straight in the eye and say so.  Conversely, if she makes you a promise, it will not be broken.

Case in point is Laurel Elementary, originally scheduled to be a work site in January.  The school had been prepped and ready for its makeover –  then came the January rains, drowning out some of the prep work and all hopes of a work day.  After rescheduling the work day twice due to weather, it was moved up to April.

But the weather had caused more problems for the school than just scheduling.  Water flooded the grounds and filled a meadow on the eastern half of the school that the staff jokingly named “Laurel Lake.”  Mud and puddles were everywhere, and some pathways had to be covered with wooden pallets in order for students to walk to class.  Even weeks after the rains stopped, Laurel Lake still stood.  Desperate to provide a proper environment for her students, Laurel’s principal, Dr. Francisca Owoaje, approached Alma about the problem.  Alma admitted that she had no idea if the CI could help, but promised she’d look into it.

She started consulting with professionals about Laurel’s water problem, and found out that Laurel needed a french drain. It would be impossible for the school district to afford the several thousands needed to buy and install that kind of a system.  However, if the Compton Initiative partnered with the district by providing the manpower and equipment needed to install the drains, the problem could be solved.

Alma took this proposal to the school board, and the district jumped at the chance. Excavation began shortly after.  Looking back, Alma now sees all that water as one more example of divine providence.  “If we had scheduled the school for a work day in say, July – we never would have witnessed those water problems.  Now Laurel has the drain they  needed, and the school district has been saved tons of money.”

On April 10th, Laurel Elementary still received the overall beautification with freshly painted buildings, new landscaping, and beautiful playground murals.

By the end of that Saturday, Alma went go home rejoicing over another work day completed.  On Sunday she celebrated with her congregation the job well done.  But come Monday, she was back to work planning for July – because there is always more good to be done!

Alma and her crew work with Pastor John as they make plans to renovate the Chrisma Center.

While the men tour the property, Alma communicates with another site crew through her Blackberry. Day and night, she is never far from her phone.

Back in her office, Alma runs through figures with another Compton Initiative staff member.

The site board (displaying all current projects of the Compton Initiative) takes up one wall of Alma's office. For Alma, each one of these sites represent people she has grown to love.

Alma's shelves are lined with tokens from appreciative partners. This scrapbook, made by children from Caldwell Elementary, expresses their gratitude for their newly painted school.

It's Alma's comfortable way with others that quickly puts them at ease in her presence.

To the staff of Laurel Elementary, this patch of dirt and its french drain are a welcome sight.

Dr. Owoaje, principal, embraces Alma during a visit to Laurel Elementary. The pair have become fast friends, two women bonded by their common commitment to see a city transformed.

Look for more stories on Dr. Francisca Owoaje and her amazing Laurel Elementary in the coming week!  To find out more about the Compton Initiative, see the “About the Compton Initiative” page on this blog.

9 Responses to “Alma Vargas”

  1. tonya says:

    Thanks everyone for all the positive feedback! And all of you that know Alma understand what an honor it was to post this article!

  2. John Brennan says:

    Alma,

    What a gift you are to our church and our community! As I have come to know you, you have consistently demonstrated the love of Jesus Christ as you go about your work to help cities in need! When we first connected with you and the Compton Initiative, we thought about doing this once and then we could say “… been there done that…”. Now we look forward to partnering with you and all the other volunteers to help in any way we can to provide for others. Our marching order comes from the Eighth Principle of Celebrate Recovery… Yield myself to God to be used to bring this “Good News” to others, both by my example and by my words. You demonstrate this to all of us and you are “the example” for this church, for Compton and for this community. You are a gift to us! God bless you in all you do this day. John & Linda Brennan & Celebrate Recovery

  3. meterhyprop says:

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, Satellite Direct Tv

  4. Shannon Gasparac says:

    Alma is a truly amazing woman. Being the wife of a Compton Initiative Leutenant, I know just a small part of how much work goes into planning one job site. Alma’s job is monumental and yet, by the grace of God, she accomplishes mighty things each quarter. Through Alma’s hard work (and charming smile :) ), ERC and all of our partners have gained the trust of so many Compton residents…something I know many of them have not been able to do for a long time, if ever. As a youth leader at ERC, I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand through her son Carlos that Alma’s values are something she lives at home just as much as she does at her job. I praise God that He’s given Alma the opportunity to use the gifts He’s given her in mighty ways!

  5. tonya says:

    Hi Christian — you’re the friend of Teresa’s and Jessica’s, right? I have heard them speak of you often over the years. :) Thanks for the positive words and encouragement — I hope you’ll continue to follow along as the blog develops!

  6. tonya says:

    Shannon, thanks to you, your family, and the families of all the lieutenants who work so hard to pull off each work day. You all contribute in an important way to the success of the Compton Initiative!

  7. Geoffrey says:

    Tania, God has gifted you with the ability to take great photos. The format you’ve chosen is very logical, I like logical :) Through your work others will see that Compton is a city on the up-swing, momentum led by courageous individuals like you and many others. Well done.

  8. tonya says:

    Geoffrey, I love that when you say, “I like logical” I can hear it in your voice inside my head. :) You are so darn funny! Thanks for the encouragement — you are a great cheerleader!

  9. found it on google. nice. ill come back to visit.

Leave a Reply