A lot of people look around their neighborhoods and think, “Why is it this way? Why can’t it be better?” And for most, the questions stay questions. Not for Diana Lerma Pfeifer, however. When she sees something she thinks could be improved, she does her research, recruits others to help, then sets out to change it.
For example, when Diana moved into Houston’s Lindale Park neighborhood with her husband John, she noticed the local YMCA was rather run-down and lacked basic amenities. The MD Anderson YMCA is one of the oldest Ys in the greater Houston area, but serves a very low-income community and struggles to compete with its suburban counterparts for resources.
“There seemed to be a lot of blame going around, but no one was looking for a solution,” she recalls.
Diana decided the “someone” who would go the extra mile would be her and the friends she managed to recruit. Soon she was on the local YMCA board, and over time, the facility was dramatically improved.
“I believe in going right up the command chain; I won’t stop talking until I get someone who has the power to say yes.
“My secret is simple: persistence,” Diana laughs. “We just kept asking and asking.”
Another focus for Diana has been public safety around a light rail line that cut through the heart of the community near four elementary schools. Pfeifer started asking questions about the absence of cables to keep children away from the rails. As is her signature style, Diana brought together a coalition of like-minded residents and organizations. At one of their meetings, she learned that six years before, Avenue CDC led an initiative called GO Mobility in which the Metro authority had committed – in writing – to install safety railings at all major pedestrian crossings. Pfeifer’s tenacity and organizing skills paid off, and the Metro honored its commitment.
What’s next for Diana? She has an immediate response: “In 2012, Houston residents approved a big public bond offering to renovate 20 inner-city, mostly Latino and black schools,” she says. “We need to start ‘pecking’ at them to make sure the authorities do what they promised.”
Judging by her past track record, Diana and her fellow volunteers are likely to succeed. Why? “I believe in going right up the command chain; I won’t stop talking until I get someone who has the power to say yes. And then I say, ‘look me in the eye and tell me you won’t help.’”
Persistence pays off in communities
Meet Diana Lerma Pfeifer, one of seven winners of our 2015 Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award, who with a little tenacity and persistence, convinced authorities to deliver results in her Texas neighborhood.