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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Spanish Action League Has New Chief; National Search Ends With Hiring County Jobs Manager Mayra Orsini Of Syracuse

By Luis Perez, Staff writer

September 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Post Standard/Herald-Journal, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

The Spanish Action League board announced Thursday it hired Mayra Orsini, who moved from Puerto Rico 10 years ago, to lead the agency that serves the area's growing Latino population.

After a five-month national search, all 14 board members voted Wednesday to hire Orsini as executive director. The Syracuse resident replaces Fanny Villarreal de Canavan, whom the board fired in May after five years of service.

Orsini - a manager at JobsPlus, Onondaga County's job placement agency - will start Oct. 13 at La Liga, as the agency is known in Spanish, board President Calvin Corriders said. Her salary is still under discussion, he said.

Applicants came from as far as Puerto Rico, Massachusetts and New York City, Corriders said. The search committee narrowed the field to five and then two finalists, he said.

"It was the most difficult decision that I've ever had to be a part of," said Miguel Perez, board vice president and chairman of the search committee.

"I was surprised," Orsini said of the Wednesday night call telling her she got the job. The board had a number of "really good, very professional" candidates to choose from, she said.

Orsini said her first priority is keeping an open line of communication.

"We need to go back and reconnect to the community we serve and the community at large," Orsini said.

La Liga has gone through a tumultuous period since it fired Villarreal de Canavan. A group of Hispanics disenchanted with the agency protested in front of its office. And the three board members who voted against firing Villarreal de Canavan resigned.

In response to the protest, the board held a town hall-style meeting where some people complained about the lack of Latinos in leadership positions at the agency.

Thursday, Orsini was looking ahead.

"We need to create unity in the neighborhood, in the Latino community," she said. "I'm talking about all the agencies that serve (Hispanics) in one way or another."

She talked about encouraging more Latinos to volunteer at the agency and establishing close relationships with staff, community and all levels of government.

She promised to give 150 percent to the agency and the community, "because they deserve it."

Orsini was a parole and probation officer in Puerto Rico before moving to Syracuse. She worked at the Salvation Army for one year before starting as a jobs coach at JobsPlus in 1995, when the employment agency opened. About three years ago, she was promoted to a supervisory position.

Board members, former colleagues and others in Syracuse's Hispanic community had high praise for Orsini, who is taking over a high-profile position in the Latino community for the first time.

"I think she's an outstanding choice, outstanding," Corriders said. "Her credentials, her knowledge of the community, the respect she has in the community. She's a tremendous candidate to lead the agency."

Patricia Higgins was Orsini's boss as director of JobsPlus, before Higgins became acting vice president for student services at Onondaga Community College.

"She has a great ability to look at situations and make some really good judgments," Higgins said.

Orsini excels at gathering support where she needs it and was "great to work with as part of the leadership team," Higgins said.

Arlene Melchiorre, co-chair of the Association of Neighbors Concerned with Latino Advancement, said she has worked with Orsini for almost eight years. Orsini helps organize that organization's annual Latinas conference.

Melchiorre said Orsini's enthusiasm and energy are some of her best assets. She's a capable organizer as well, Melchiorre said.

"She does it with a sense of caring and a sense of pride," Melchiorre said.

In March, Orsini received an award from the Westside Learning Center, an adult education center that helps many Spanish speakers. She supported the center's efforts to train non-English speakers so they can get better jobs, said Theresa Pagano, founder and director.

Orsini is organized and in tune with the community, Pagano said. And she brings good supervisory and staff development experience to La Liga, Pagano said.

Her challenge is to look at La Liga's mission, make sure the board and staff buy into it and serve the community's needs, Pagano said.

"And then stick to it," she said.

Staff writer Maureen Nolan contributed to this report.

Mayra Orsini

Age: 45

Address: 709 Mountainview Ave., Syracuse. She moved to Syracuse in 1993 from Puerto Rico.

Job history: Orsini was a parole and probation officer in Puerto Rico, worked at the Salvation Army in 1994 and was one of the first hires in 1995 at JobsPlus, Onondaga County's job placement agency. She was promoted to a supervisory position there in 2000.

Community involvement: She has served on the boards of the Spanish Action League, Association of Neighbors Concerned with Latino Advancement, Onondaga Latino Caucus, YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County, Girl Scout Council of Central New York and Appleseed Trust.

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