San Francisco resident Vicente Obico, age 67, volunteers weekly at his local church food bank, helping deliver groceries to seniors in his neighborhood. For years, Obico and his wife paid their mortgage every month, but because they were a victim of a predatory loan, they began to fall behind and his bank would not communicate with them to modify the loan.
ACORN members helped, and were successful in renegotiating the loan and keeping Obico and his wife in their home. If it weren't for ACORN's ability to help draw public attention to their situation, they would have lost their home, and his local church, which relies heavily on volunteers to continue their community services to seniors, would have lost one of their most dedicated church members.
Akiko Rodriques, a single mom with four children, ages 3 to 14, had her first experience with ACORN's free tax preparation service this year. When she left, she was delighted by the amount of her tax refund. She used the money to pay off her bills and had a little extra left. She took her kids on a family summer vacation to Disneyland - their first trip to Southern California - and used some of the money for a graduation gift for her oldest daughter. Akiko is hoping to have her taxes filed by ACORN again next tax season.
Obico and Rodriques are two of many examples of the work ACORN has done in communities throughout the Bay Area for more than 20 years, helping tens of thousands of residents in much the same manner to have affordable housing, get out of poverty and build stronger community.
Two weeks ago, videos surfaced of several ACORN employees providing outrageous advice to two people who had walked into their offices (self-described "conservative activists" acting undercover who had done similar biased and agenda-driven videos of other organizations) seeking help. The ACORN employees have either been fired or suspended, and we are investigating why they behaved this way.
Our top priority is to complete an audit of our programs and services. An independent team of experts is reviewing the administration of these services. They will return with a top-to-bottom analysis of what we're doing well, and what needs improvement and all of our many offices will adopt policies, procedures and reforms that come out of this process.
Our goal is to make sure our services are effective to save homes and guarantee vital services.
The advocacy of ACORN, and of ACORN members like Obico, has helped families get through these tough economic times. Our work has also resulted in numerous policy changes, such as state legislation banning some of the most egregious predatory lending practices, greater accountability of liquor stores violating the law and increasing the minimum wage.
As we look inward to clean up what's not working within our organization, we also put out a call to selfless volunteers eager to help their neighbors. Without ACORN, this work would be left undone, and hardworking families would be left to fend for themselves.
© 2009 The San Francisco Chronicle
John Eller is currently the San Francisco head organizer for ACORN. Richard Hopson sits on ACORN's citywide board of directors. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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