I caught up with Anavelia Segura by the pond and fitness trail by the mall. And “caught up” is the operative phrase. I can attest to her sitting still while we spoke, but it may have been one of the only times in her life she has done so. She has a lot going on. And she’s just getting started.
A passion for public health
We first connected over a shared passion—public health. When we spoke in April, I had just had my second COVID-19 vaccination, and she was anticipating her family’s the next day. We shared information about the side effects of the second shot and agreed that the pandemic year had been long and like nothing we had ever experienced before. Segura had just spent the past few weeks connecting people to vaccination slots. Last winter, she had been making sure they had their flu shots to keep healthy during quarantine. Those contacts have served her well as she and other Oak Terrace neighbors work to answer any questions and give confidence and translation help to those now seeking health care and “jabs.”
As an eligibility specialist for Olmsted County, Segura works with a team to meet with clients who need the emergency resources the County can provide, from food stamps to cash, bill coverage, and even a bit of health care help. COVID-19, of course, caused a significant uptick in the needs throughout Olmsted in 2020. The number of family applications went from 400 to 600 during the early months of the pandemic.
The specialists are not social workers, per se, but they act in a similar way, using their knowledge of what the County has to offer to best assist people in the most efficient way possible. Everything has been remote this year, of course, and there’s ongoing continuing education as budgets and policies change. Segura is always challenging herself to see just what people are going through in the county and to help more to break the cycle of poverty.
In the neighborhood
Segura is also head of the Oak Terrace/ Parkside Neighborhood Association. She and a volunteer group have run the association of about one thousand registered residents in this trailer park community on the east side of Marion Road, near Bear Creek Park, for about four years.
“I always felt I had to do more,” Segura says, “so I took a Ready to Lead class through Family Services of Rochester and then was approached to run the Association.”
It’s an important role, as there are many needs in this working-class neighborhood that is the only affordable housing for many Rochester residents. In normal years, several local organizations run programs through the community center there, including Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scouts Connect, Olmsted County Medical Center and Autumn Ridge Church. Bear Creek Church also offers mobile home repairs and emergency living space.
In 2019, through Rochester Community Health Partners, Segura and other volunteers were set to start on Intermix, a new project to educate Oak Terrace teen siblings about the basics of babysitting and CPR.
“A lot of teens are caring for younger siblings as their parents work two or more jobs. This way, they are at least empowered and can make good decisions when they must do this,” says Segura. The pandemic closed the program temporarily, but she hopes to get back into it once things open up more.
A voice for the next generation
In her own household, Segura has quite the range of ages and activities. Her two grown children live in Mankato and Wisconsin, and the two younger children are at home, both with special needs. It has been a year of distance learning for them but also a year of being a consistent voice for the Spanish-speaking community at Rochester Public schools.
“One comment we have been hearing over the years is that Hispanic parents are not as involved with their kids’ conferences and teacher meetings as the school district would like,” says Segura. “Well, let’s look at that, not in a negative way, but to reflect and say, ‘What can you do to meet with people who are working two or more jobs, whose first language might not be English?’”
Segura believes that Zoom and other types of pandemic technology might be used in new ways as community engagement tools in the future. This is the kind of connection and problem-solving that she engages in daily.
We’re all just humans
Segura takes a more expansive view of identity and her role in the community. Being a woman of Mexican heritage and a Spanish speaker are important aspects of what she does. owever, she never feels she fits into a box.
“We are all just humans, at the end of the day, and we do what we can,” says Segura. “Truthfully, we don’t even know what we are.” Her recent tests on Ancestry indicated a vast and varied background ranging from North Africa to indigenous Mexico and almost everything in between.
“Who do you want me to be?” Segura asks. “We get too hung up on defining who we are and what category we fit into. We can’t let any of that get in the way of what we can do in the world.”
Despite COVID-19, the end of the 2020 election cycle has been a relief to Segura and others in the Latinx community here. With immigration and deportation being major concerns, everyone was lying low.“It was bad,” she says. “As a country, obviously, we are still working through these policies. I am an American. Yet I had to talk to my kids about the possibility of deportation, just because of how we look.”The election’s results didn’t happen by themselves. Segura joined the many working on the Census as a “connector” and then went right from that to registering voters and working to get out the vote. “I knew I had to get involved with the Census, as it has a direct impact on funding for my clients at Olmsted County, my children, the schools, everyone.” From there, voter registration and elections volunteering were the next steps.
When asked what her goals and observations are of her work in the community, Segura feels that there is much to do to create a just and equitable world where all can live and work with dignity. She sees her role as being that voice—that connector—for the Oak Terrace neighborhood and the city as a whole.“Change is slower than we would like, in part because when I was growing up, there was no one person I could go to to learn what to do. So I decided to be that person.” I can’t wait to see what Segura does next. Something tells me she won’t be sitting down for quite some time.