We can learn many life lessons from Maria Ortega

June 9, 2007

RIVERSIDE, CA — Corner of Main Street and Mission Inn Avenue.

You can’t but help liking southern California. For a good ole southern boy like myself, coming here is always a treat. The people and climate are different from the South and I find I listen more intently and watch more closely those around me — living and learning still at 56 years old.

Kay produces an educational event for Lockheed Martin here at Longfellow Elementary School where Maria Ortega has been principal for the past eight years. This will be the 9th year we have provided such an educational outreach activity for the inner city school children in Riverside.

Probably of all the events over the years that I have participated in or helped Kay produce, this one always warms my heart more than any other.

I have pondered the reasons why this is many times and always come back to one conclusion — Maria Ortega.

Maria is married to Louis and they have a 12-year old daughter, and tonight (Saturday) she will entertain, host and ensure the safety of 25 of her daughter’s friends, who will be spending overnight at her daughter’s birthday party.

On Monday, she will return to Longfellow Elementary, an inner city school nestled at the foot of the mountains in Riverside, and surrounded by low-income yet exceptionally well-kept homes in this setting and it is here that she will ensure the education and safety of her charges.

I assure you that will frequently see this 5’5″ lady frequently smiling at various things that life presents her, be it 25 kids for a sleep over, an 8-year old deeply troubled child, who requires high levels of attention, or a special event that overtakes her school for an entire day.

Maria is one of those truly unique people that when challenges are presented, whatever they be, she finds a way to go around, go over, go under or head-on into them.

She inspires and motivates by example.

When you see her lovingly talking to her children you recognize that there are still people in our public school systems that do care about our children and that will go that extra mile to help our kids become the best they can be.

Maria’s children are inner city. Many of them are homeless, come from one parent families, are being raised by their grandparents or relatives, have seen drugs, alcohol, meth and other addictions up close and personal.

Many of these children have been abused, neglected and are growing up in a hard life and without the inspiration of elders like Maria would have no sense that their future could look different than their past.

Maria teaches by example.

When a child is hurting, she is there to hug. When a child needs discipline, she is there with the firm word and explanation of why such behavior is not acceptable. When a child needs insight, she asks for the child’s feelings and shares her own. And when a child needs to know without any doubt they are loved there is no hesitation to show and tell them that most assuredly they are.

I have always counseled my clients that leadership starts at the top of an organization.

I believe that you can tell within minutes of entering any organization and talking to the “person in charge” what type of culture the organization is all about and if there is leadership present or not.

A leader is motivating, inspiring, focused, compassionate, committed to their people, an exemplary listener, mission driven, and visionary.

Longfellow Elementary has one of the finest leaders I have ever had the privilege of working with and knowing.

And suffice it to say that in my dictionary, you will see a picture of Maria Ortega beside the definition of leadership and she is why my heart is always warmed when I come to Riverside.

We couldn’t be more thankful than to have the opportunity to work with her.

Until next time.

L. Darryl Armstrong

ARMSTRONG and Associates

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