Community Action of Southold Town names Ortiz as director

06/10/2010 12:00 AM |

CAST board president Peggy Murphy, left, and newly appointed CAST director Linda Ortiz, at Ms. Murphy’s Southold home.

Linda Ortiz has been named director of CAST, which provides services for the town’s neediest residents. She replaces Liza Coppola, who left the job in April after an upheaval that saw the resignations of several CAST board members over the past year.

“I’m excited about this new adventure. I have this energy and it’s going to be fun,” Ms. Ortiz said.

Ms. Ortiz, 56, has 25 years of experience in community programs. Recently retired from Greenport Village, where she established and ran the recreation program. She will continue working for the village this summer, overseeing its summer camp program, and will initially work for CAST on a part-time basis. Her position there is slated to become full-time in September.

Ms. Coppola and CAST board members reached a parting of the ways this spring after she was offered only a part-time job that would have stripped her of her director’s title. At the time, board president Peggy Murphy said the change was a reorganization aimed at keeping down expenses while searching for someone with grant-writing abilities and program development skills. At the time, Ms. Coppola said the job she was offered “wasn’t appropriate to my skills.”

Ms. Ortiz has been a longtime CAST board member and has the requisite grant-writing experience, according to Ms. Murphy. She’s also fluent in Spanish, which will enable her to communicate with many of CAST’s clients. She also has an organizational sense and energy that board members said they want in the new director, Ms. Murphy said.

“I took this on thinking there is so much that can be done,” Ms. Ortiz said during an interview Tuesday morning at Ms. Murphy’s Southold home. “I like to create challenges for myself.”

After Ms. Coppola left CAST in April, it was Ms. Ortiz who worked nights and weekends to help fill the void while the board hunted for a replacement. Among her early accomplishments was revamping staffing at CAST’s office by giving Katria Nieves and Phyllis Atkins an opportunity to expand their roles in the organization.

Ms. Nieves is attending a program to learn how to help CAST identify more sources of assistance to help meet client needs. Ms. Atkins has put in time above and beyond the hours for which she is paid to rearrange CAST’s food pantry and reorganize how food is distributed to clients.

“They’re bright women and no one really tapped into that resource,” Ms. Ortiz said.

Ms. Ortiz said her goal is not to just give CAST clients a handout, but to get to know them individually and help them get the training and assistance they need to land jobs and secure their own futures. That has always been the CAST mission, but with the many services the group renders, it hasn’t always had the prominence she hopes to give it, she said.

As a volunteer at the Maureen’s Haven program for the homeless at St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport, Ms. Ortiz has assisted in securing housing as well as helping to provide a safe, warm place to sleep and a solid hot meal,

Also a volunteer with the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation, she became the organizer of its major fundraising event, the annual Maritime Festival.

Ms. Ortiz has also has been able to establish a rapport with Latinos in the area. “I’ve always been truthful and that’s why there’s a special bond,” she said of the people she helped while working for Greenport Village.

Ms. Ortiz came to Greenport after seven years as director of the Police Athletic League in New York City, where she ran full-time recreation centers in the Bronx and developed programs for teens and seniors. Her initial responsibility here was to write a grant for, and develop, a recreation program for the village. She also developed Greenport’s summer camp program and got involved in assisting village administrator David Abatelli and building inspector Eileen Wingate with code enforcement. Her role involved community outreach, assisting residents and village officials with code issues that concerned housing and other problems.

“I had a great ride for all those years,” she said of her village job, which she left at the end of May.

She plans to focus English as a Second Language classes given at CAST on the things clients need to know to get and hold jobs, she said, and she wants to set up a small library to provide clients with books and magazines. She’ll also continue a community garden at CAST that was started during Ms. Coppola’s tenure and hopes she can inspire more clients to start their own businesses, growing and selling their own produce.

“It’s clients giving back,” she said.

Working with teens in the community, she wants to engage them in assisting local seniors with chores such as snow shoveling and running errands, she said.

“I network and I know a lot of people,” Ms. Ortiz said.

Ms. Murphy said she hopes that will enable CAST to reach out beyond Greenport to others in Southold who could benefit from CAST services.

To accomplish everything they want to do, CAST needs to expand to its stable of volunteers. Ms. Ortiz is creating a schedule that will enable volunteers to sign up for an hour or two a week to tackle such jobs as filing, handling telephone calls and rendering other important services to the community. She’s ready to harness the energies of those who are willing to call her at 477-1717.

Contributions are also critical to CAST at a time when the economy has generated far more clients than the organization has seen in the past, Ms. Murphy said. She worries about the year ahead. With some signs that the economy is improving, people might not realize the need that still exists in the community, she said.

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