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Extraordinary Woman: Margarita Romo

Margarita Romo

On the other end of the phone line came the words, “Are you really coming?”

It’s not the kind of thing a reporter wants to hear after several weeks of e-mails and the night before the big interview. The query was from Margarita Romo in Dade City.

Romo is the executive director and founder of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc., a nonprofit organization serving the needs of migrant workers and their families in Pasco and Hernando counties. Posing her question to me again, and slower this time, she said, “You’re coming to see me?”

Yes, Margarita. You.

The phone call was trademark Romo – a woman so focused on helping others, she leaves little time for herself. This fall, she’ll have to get used to it. The 74 year old has been getting calls from reporters and community leaders since being named the 2010 Hispanic Woman of the Year by Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.

The trained pastor and transplant from Texas has devoted the past 40 years to working with migrant families in Tommytown – a poor farm worker community on the north end of Dade City. With a significant number of parents working until nightfall, Romo has become a surrogate grandmother to the children and teens in the neighborhood. She created an “afterschool, soccer, homework studies” program that has become a home-away-from home for nearly 100 kids. The program appropriately is called My Other House. The patch of Dade City land, nearly 4 acres, sits on Calle de Milagros – Spanish for street of miracles.

It’s a tough name to live up to, but if anyone can do it, Romo can.

“I’ve watched children go through a lot of trauma here. I’ve seen kids have their parents taken away and sent back to Mexico. I also have children that can never really feel a part of this country because they came when they were babies and have thought they’re American citizens, but then one day, someone tells them, ‘No you’re not,’ ” Romo explains.

“We have to take that child and build them up on the inside. Let them know how important they are and the things they need to do to get better and to be a part of the community,” Romo says.

Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. is funding the college studies of three of its students. With help from the community and volunteers, they run a free clinic each Tuesday night out of Romo’s old house. There, a doctor from Wesley Chapel sees patients four to five hours a week and trains local women to help in the clinic as well.

“They have taken the ladies and taught them so they’re called promotoras de salud – promoters of health. I keep telling people, ‘You know how the doctor has a little black bag? Well you can have an imaginary black bag with all these things in it that you’ve learned,’ ” says Romo with a smile.

A few yards from the clinic sits the Norma Learning Center for children ages 12 and younger. Across the street, two coaches volunteer to teach the boys and girls soccer and teenagers hang out at the youth center. On the day of our visit with Romo, the teens were rehearsing a play they wrote themselves. Their lines delivered in Spanish, sprinkled with nervous giggles and whispers in Spanglish.

Looking out at these safe spaces they created for the neighborhood children, Romo reaches for an analogy.

“It’s like a lawnmower. Who handles the lawn mower? Somebody up here but the mower mowed the grass. I feel like God is just using us like little lawn mowers. We’re going around, cutting down the bad stuff and letting some good stuff grow.”

How do you relax and take time for yourself? Why?

I enjoy long walks on the beach. It gives me a chance to reflect on all that has been provided for me. It also gives me a chance to talk to God. Sometimes I feel that I can hear Him saying, “You again? Now what?” But generally, relaxing means picking up a great book and listening to Joyce Myers

What/Who is your biggest inspiration or role model?

I have many inspirations and role models but Jesus comes first. After him, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr. and Emiliano Zapata. I meet and have met many people, and I try to learn a little something from each one.

What message would you give women?

Nothing is impossible. Woman can do anything they want to. We must just set our mind on a goal and achieve it, even if you are not sure on how to begin. I believe that any and all of life’s challenges or hurts can be healed by God. I truly feel blessed and consider myself a walking miracle!

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