Old enough to advocate, young enough to still relate
By Dwight Hobbes
You don’t meet LeAndra Estis so much as experience her. The svelte, diminutive dynamo, an enthused conversationalist, arrests your attention, bringing intelligence and passion to bear on whatever subject happens to be at hand.
Good news: Estis is committed to the cause of affording disenfranchised, low-income Twin Citians tools and tactics to empower economic advancement. She is a board member of Community Action Partnership (CAP), a national agency dedicated the past 50 years to leveling the field for those who’ve been shunted to society’s sidelines.
On top of which, the term “board member” generally brings to mind a stodgy, self-impressed stuffed blouse of fairly advanced age more concerned with being officious than being of actual effect. At 31, energetic and outgoing, Estis breaks that mold. At a South Minneapolis coffee shop, casually, confidently expressing herself, she reflects, “I bring a connection in advocating from the middle ground for the next generation being that I am still young enough to experience the day-to-day issues…youth go through.” And, after all, who is more imperiled by poverty than urban under-30s striving to survive today’s disastrous economy?
“I represent youth that come after me. Most of the decisions made today will have the biggest impact on the children of tomorrow.” Hoping to end an age-old cycle of social dysfunction that long has kept the downtrodden down, she sums up that, along with the advantage of youth, she’s “mature and experienced enough in being that voice to carry our issues to those that are advocating for us.”
Her demeanor frank, professionally polite, she adds, “Another advantage is my culture [and] race. “In terms of relating to the ‘street’ side. How those people feel and bring it back to the board. Express where they need help. Rather than people [who make decisions] guessing.”
Pursuant to which, Estis’ credentials are rock solid, not the least being that the St. Paul native graduated Central High on the honor roll and is employed the past two years as a night auditor at Holiday Inn Express. To help with people’s problems, it’s best to know those problems first hand.
“I didn’t grow up in corporate. Or a fancy lifestyle, suburb living. I grew up, was born, bred and live in the ‘hood. I understand people who grew up in poverty like I did. That’s what earned me my seat on the CAP board.”
A seat she was reluctant to take. Executive Director Clarence Hightower had to woo and win her over. “I was prepared to turn down the position, because I didn’t think I would fit [among members of more rarefied experience]. I was afraid I did not belong on a panel made up of professionals with titles such as director, commissioner and lawyer. When I expressed that to Mr. Hightower, he said [my background] is exactly what was needed on the board.”
This was after she’d been at CAP since roughly 2009. “I started out as policymaker for Head Start.” She is, by the way, a Head Start parent with two youngsters. “When my second child went through Head Start, I got on the policy council, elected by other parents. I was interested in how the program ran and how my child was learning.”
Then, she became a member of LIFT, helping people learn about legislation that impacts their lives and, in general, how to get involved in helping to strengthen their own communities, including voter registration. “We try to help our communities in the issues, whatever way it is they may need help. We get together and work through things.”
She sums up, “I’ve been through all the community programs CAP has to offer.” Small wonder she was recruited and elected to the board.
Countless organizations claim to be about the business of helping the poor help themselves. LeAndra Estis states that CAP puts its funding where its mouth is. “The proof is there. Check the public record. Nationally, all over. Head Start, for instance, works to [assist] parents. Putting children in school and getting them early education. There is Energy Assistance. Community engagement. Things like car loans, financial guidance to get [the necessary] skills.”
Further information can be found at www.com munityactionpartnership.com. Meanwhile, a valuable piece of information is that such an individual of consequence as LeAndra Estis is weighing in at the top level, putting teeth in Community Action Partnership’s mission.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
To see more stories by Dwight Hobbes stories click HERE