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September 1, 2014, 5:19 am

Little by little, she became a leader

As vice president of Parent Power, block captain of East Seymour Street, and a local team leader for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, Ann Figueroa is getting things done for her community.

Her journey to becoming a leader in her community began five years ago, at Fitzsimons High School, where her son was a freshman.

“His first few days there he got jumped,” she said. “That is what prompted me to become involved with the schools. Before that I didn’t realize how important it was for a parent to be involved in all aspects of their child’s education.”

Not wanting her son to “get caught up in the streets,” Figueroa decided to dedicate her spare time to volunteering at Fitzsimons.

When a social worker who served Fitzsimons asked her to help with a breakfast for parents she happily obliged.

“I made phone calls to parents,” she said. “I organized meetings, and next thing you know, I was voted Home and School president within a few months. So I started advocating for parents.”

In her year as president, Figueroa was given the Town Watch Award for her work in the Home and School Association.

In recognition of her accomplishments as Home and School Association president, she was recommended to attend a conference given by the School District of Philadelphia. There, she met Sylvia P. Simms, president of Parent Power.

“We connected,” Figueroa said. “The school district educated us on our rights as parents, and how we can advocate for our children. Sylvia took that knowledge, and made it into an organization.”

Figueroa was able to parlay her success in Parent Power into a role as block captain.

“I figured, if I do what I did at the school level within the community I could get more parents involved with Parent Power,” she said. “So I organized a community health fair on Germantown Avenue, where we gave out book bags and offered health services.”

She also assisted individuals on her block who had trouble dealing with the local elementary schools, and she even served as a direct advocate for one of her neighbors’ children who had disciplinary issues in school.

“My neighbors saw the work I was doing within the schools, and asked me to be block captain,” Figueroa said. “And we started having block meetings every month, and holding community health fairs on Seymour Street.”

Years before she became vice president of Parent Power and block captain, Figueroa had obstacles to overcome.

“I battled drug addiction for 13 years,” she said. “I was in and out of prison.”

After a short stint living in North Carolina, still battling addiction, and having the two youngest of her five children taken away from her, she detoxed on her own.

“I quit on my own for the first three months,” she said. “Then a friend of mine convinced me to attend outpatient rehab at the DRC on Arch Street, in order to make me stronger.”

She attended daily outpatient meetings for a year, and simultaneously began volunteering for then-Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller. After that she obtained a job with the School District. However, she is no longer employed there.

“I came a long way,” she said, smiling. “I’m still struggling at home. I still need help with bills. I’m on SSA, for a leg injury, but that’s not enough. Even though I’m not trying to let it hold me down. I’m still trying to help other people as much as I can, because I won’t be in this situation for the rest of my life.”