San Diego Union Tribune interviews Andrea Skorepa, who is retiring in August after 36 of service to the community of San Ysidro

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To Andrea Skorepa, San Ysidro is a place where the people should be supported and feel inspired to create the kind of community they want for themselves. For the past 35 years, she’s worked toward that as president and CEO of Casa Familiar, a nonprofit community development organization that offers various services to people in the community, from educational programs to affordable housing to art and culture.

Skorepa, 68, has deep roots in the South Bay as a native of National City who earned degrees from Southwestern College and San Diego State University before becoming a teacher in the San Ysidro School District in the 1970s and moving on to Casa Familiar in the ’80s. She’s also a 2011 recipient of the Ohtli Award, presented by the Mexican Consulate in San Diego by the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, which is awarded to people who improve the quality of life for Mexicans living outside Mexico.

“We are a holistic agency that enables people to receive services and become engaged in bettering the quality of their own lives, and that of the community,” she said of Casa Familiar. “It is a grass-roots organization that considers the residents we serve worthy of respect and consideration.”

Today, she lives in Bonita with her husband and their family, and will retire from the nonprofit next month. She’s overseen its growth from a small staff and budget, to an agency that employs dozens of people, partners with numerous organizations, and maintains a million-dollar budget, and assets to match. There are more than 30 programs to serve the community. Skorepa talks about her goals for the organization when she started, and her hopes for it in the future.

Q. Why did you want to work for Casa Familiar?

A. I wanted the people of San Ysidro to be enabled to have a hand in their own destinies. Casa seemed like a place already in existence that, if worked correctly, could do more civic engagement work.

Q. What was your goal for the organization when you became president and CEO in 1981?

A. I wanted the organization to grow, build assets, and be consulted before actions were taken in City Hall and become more involved while building the image of San Ysidro into a more positive and higher quality of life and environment. I also wanted San Ysidro to take advantage of being on the world’s busiest border.

Q. Why was this something you wanted to focus on?

A. I was trained as a grass-roots organizer, and I knew that as a place with low income, low-educational achievement, non-existent politically, and with a high ethnic population, we would continue to suffer at the hands of others. We needed to raise our voices and understand that though the journey might be long, it could be a triumphant one.

What I love about Bonita

The fact that we have a beautiful view and no immediate neighbors. Our neighbors in the adjoining yard are a rescued pig, some chickens, a goat, a Galapagos turtle, two almost noiseless dogs, and one really noisy dog.

Q. Tell us about the San Ysidro Sin Limites program.

A. Sin Limites is a very successful and formalized community meeting. It happens every two months and is about communicating between us and the residential community. For instance, we have done the first air quality monitoring at the border. We engaged our community by explaining what we were about to launch, got their cooperation, and reported our findings back to them.

Q. Which of your programs and/or services seem to draw the most people?

A. Our human services component, and technology and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) components draw in a diverse population, and our Promotora program that trains and certifies adults in fitness, health, and nutrition are also impacting the community in a very positive way. These programs directly serve needs that the participants consider important to them.

Q. Why are you retiring?

A. I have worked since I was 14 years old and I have had two main loves: my teaching for 10 years, and my commitment to Casa Familiar for 36 years. It is time to leave so that other younger, more energetic individuals can give wings to their dreams.

Q. What are some of your plans for retirement?

A. Travel, spending time fixing and decorating my home, civil liberty, voting rights work, and learning something new each day.

Q. How would you like to see Casa Familiar grow in the future?

A. I would like to see Casa Familiar become 100 percent self-sustained. We’ve made it 63 percent self-sustainable under my watch, but I would like to see less money coming out of our direct developments, then government funding and foundation grants could be the cherry on top.

Q. What has your work over the years taught you about yourself?

A. To become as focused as a laser on goals, and that I should be more traditionally oriented to organizing myself so that I could reach them faster or more efficiently.

Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A. Keep my eye on the prize.

Q. What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A. That I am a shy person; more into books than strutting about as the diva.

Q. Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A. Having coffee, reading the newspaper (Union-Tribune of course! But also the New York Times), meeting for brunch at a restaurant or someone’s home, drinking wine, noshing on cheese and goodies.