Some people might consider Kathleen Leos a Super Volunteer, but she has a difficult time calling herself a volunteer.

“With a Hispanic husband and five children, I live in a bilingual, bi-cultural household,” says Leos, a neighborhood resident for more than 15 years.

“I live and work in this multi-cultural, very diverse community, and I just see my works as an extension of my life here.”

She is dedicated to bringing together the many cultural groups which make up her community. Her volunteer work includes serving in her third year as president of the James W. Fannin Elementary PTA and serving on the YWCA Administrative Council.

“Whatever she does, she does with a full heart. She has a vision for the community – to enrich this whole area, to unite the ethnic groups and to provide services for the families,” says Phyllis Newman, senior executive officer of the Dallas YWCA.

Leos’ most recent project as PTA president is setting up basic English classes for non-English speaking families. The classes, which started Sept. 14, meet two days each week for two hours at Ross Avenue Baptist Church. The program offers parents of Fannin students transportation to the classes, child care and books.

The classes – offered in Spanish, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese – are taught by volunteers. The Altrusa Club is funding the program, and the church is providing the space, two vans and volunteers to teach and provide child care. It is a community-wide effort that will benefit parents and their children.

“Last April, I did a needs-assessment survey with parents at Fannin and asked if they would be interested in taking English classes,” Leos says.

As a result, she worked with Fannin principal Gilbert Barrera and Bob Williams of Ross Avenue Baptist Church to put together the program.

“At three o’clock, when the principal opens the gates, the families come in to pick up their children. Watching all of these different cultures leaving the school at the same time is like seeing the United Nations,” Leos says.

Leos also was instrumental in the DISD board’s decision to build a new elementary school in East Dallas. Presiding over her first meeting as PTA president in 1991, Leos asked the 300 parents in attendance what they needed most as a community.

The response was almost unanimous – the parents wanted another neighborhood school. Fannin is overcrowded, and students are being bused to schools in other neighborhoods.

“We knew the problems in our community, and we wanted to have a shot at addressing those problems here by bringing our kids home,” Leos says.

So she began an 18-month, grass-roots effort to convince the school board another school was needed. On the day the school board voted on the issue, more than 200 parents and students staged a walk-a-thon from the school to the administration building.

The board approved the plan, and the public later approved a bond package which included $5.5 million for the new school. The district is working to purchase a site for the facility.

As a member of the YWCA’s administrative council, Leos’ goal is to match the YWCA’s resources with the needs of the community.

Last year, she assisted the YWCA as the group initiated an after-school program for Fannin students. Last year, 33 students participated in the program.

Her work within the community also is part of her full-time job. Leos is the director of day care for the Dallas Services for Visually Impaired Children, a neighborhood non-profit agency.

“Your time and intelligence make the difference. So do your heart and arms,” Leos says. “Even if all you have is one hour a week, you can help.”


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