In celebration of Arizona Trailblazers
Terri Cruz will be the first to tell you that she never planned her career. She just took on whatever challenge or opportunity came across her path and, in her words, “put it in the Lord’s hands.” The result has been an incredible journey that has taken her from cleaning houses for close to two decades to a long career in social services, mostly with her employer of 31 years, Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), the same group she co-founded as an original board member. She became so effective and well thought of for the work she did that she now has a building in the CPLC complex named after her, the Terri Cruz Social Services Center.
Her transition from cleaning woman to service provider started with an improbable election victory as a precinct committeewoman. As she recalled, a lawyer she cleaned for encouraged her to run for that position. At first, she resisted, saying she didn’t have the skills. At the time, she only had an eighth grade education. But the lawyer persisted and she finally said okay, figuring she had no chance of winning. Remarkably, she did win, and this was followed by subsequent employment as a receptionist, job developer, personnel manager and social service provider.
Her new vocation coincided with the “War on Poverty” initiative. That effort fomented in her a desire to provide opportunities to all. She did this as a job developer for SER Manpower Training Center, and through the numerous boards on which she served. But, as a mother of eight children, she still continued to clean houses to help make ends meet. Eventually, she transitioned to full-time work in job placement, working for SER Progress and becoming a personnel manager at the old Rhodes Department Store before becoming a social services counselor at CPLC.
Of her time in job development and placement, she recalls telling potential employers, “We’re not asking for a handout. We just want a fair opportunity to show you we can help you with your business and make money.”
At CPLC, her ability to touch so many lives is a testament to what can happen when you open your heart and decide to help others. Cruz, raised by an aunt after her father and mother both died within less than a year when she was five years old, remarked that her whole career has been so improbable, considering where she started.
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