Quiet coordinator, outspoken advocate

Joyce Salazar is the quiet force coalescing the Southeast RISE Coalition. [Express photo/Regan Foster]

Joyce Salazar’s journey from logistics planner to RISE coordinator

Joyce Salazar was perfectly content working in planning and procedures for a national manufacturing company called LSI Corp. It took her supervisor, who was located on the East Coast, to shake up her complacency. 

 To be clear, she said, her boss was an excellent one — good enough to recognize that Salazar was wasting her talent and to pester her into attending college. At 48 years old, Salazar finally conceded and, with her boss’ advocacy and tuition reimbursement, enrolled in business classes at Pikes Peak Community College. 

“I floated in on his belief,” she said. “He said, ‘you’re never too old to learn.’”

Today, the 55-year-old Southeast resident is community outreach coordinator for El Paso County Public Health and the RISE (Resilient, Inspired, Strong, Engaged) Coalition. She is also in the first semester of her master’s degree in trauma-informed care, with an eye toward eventually becoming a social worker. 

“I [was] so comfortable being in the background. I love it, that’s where I work best,” she said. “I worked in manufacturing and I was good at what I did.”

As she speaks of what it took to break those self-imposed boundaries – a boss who was believed there was more to her than she recognized, a supportive husband and family and the tenacity to step far outside her comfort zone — Salazar’s clear brown eyes well slightly. They are tears of well-earned pride, for her story is truly reminiscent of the Southeast Colorado Springs community that raised, shaped and influenced her … and for which she now fiercely advocates. 

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To learn more about the Southeast RISE Coalition and its many community-engagement efforts, visit Facebook.com/RISESoutheastCOS.


Southeast roots 

Salazar remembers a time when Southeast Colorado Springs was a destination for other parts of the city. During her days as a student at Harrison High School, she said, the “cool kids” came from eastside neighborhoods. 

Salazar’s home life was unsettled, so academics were not a huge priority for her in her teens. At Harrison, she was put on a skilled-trade track and not encouraged to pursue higher education. 

With her intrinsic organizational skills, manufacturing logistics was a natural fit. The bubbly, outgoing woman insisted that, in her younger days, she was “not much of a people person.”

That changed with a book. In 2007, Salazar received a copy of one of leadership guru and pastor John Maxwell’s many tomes on developing trendsetters. In it, Maxwell talked about the importance of acknowledging people’s inherent value. 

“I read a part that said 85 percent of a person’s success is relationships and 15 percent is processes and procedures,” she said with a laugh. “I slammed that book shut.” 

A few weeks later, Salazar revisited the work. 

“I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to put this into practice,’” she said. “I’m going to love people.”

“When people talk about RISE being this great thing, it really excites me because I get to see the people behind it.” 

Breaking boundaries

Her change of heart led to a change in relationships at work. Wanting to do still more, Salazar decided to volunteer with her church. 

“I felt it was time for me to get connected and start serving people,” she said. “They put me, an introvert who didn’t know how to connect with people, at the door to greet people.” 

Once again, Salazar sought guidance from the experts and read a book on welcoming others. Eventually she became the lead greeter, before being sent to her church’s children’s ministry. There, too, Salazar rose to the challenge and eventually the head of the volunteer list. 

“Something was happening inside of me where I felt I needed more,” she said. “I’ve been on the outside looking in for a long time. That was the driving force, ‘How do I make people feel valued? How do I make people feel welcome?’”

So, in 2015, she became a court-appointed special advocate for children, or a CASA. These highly trained volunteers work within the court system, serving as the eyes, ears and voice for children who find their way there due to severe abuse or neglect. CASAs advocate on the child’s behalf to find the best possible outcome for each youngster and family. 

During her two-year appointment with CASA, Salazar accepted that social work was her true calling. 

“I have empathy for people and I can do it objectively,” she said. “All of that experience is what led me here.” 


The rise of RISE

In December 2016, just a semester away from finishing her associate degree and with an eye toward pursuing a bachelor’s in social work, Salazar stepped down from her church volunteer position. One month later, she joined the RISE Coalition to help unify the community that had been her home for decades. 

The coalition is a multipronged partnership consisting of dozens of Southeast’s social-service, nonprofit, education, business, entrepreneurship-training, athletic, youth-intervention, ministry and community-engagement programs. From developing after-school and summer programs that build resiliency to helping the formerly incarcerated build and launch new businesses, RISE members address many of the social, economic, educational and even nutritional challenges facing Southeast. 

In the heart of it all is Salazar, both the quiet policies-and-procedures expert and outspoken advocate. 

She rejects the narrative that the neighborhood is dangerous or stagnant. True, she admits, there is work to do, but nothing great ever happened in a vacuum, or overnight.

She said events like the hugely successful El Cinco de Mayo celebration at Mission Trace Shopping Center and initiatives like the Panorama Park community engagement process are helping change external opinions. And, she added that the advocacy of Southeast’s elected officials, from City Council to the Legislature, are helping to change minds across the region.  

“People have a picture that has been planted,” she said. “When people talk about RISE being this great thing, it really excites me because I get to see the people behind it.

“It’s taken decades to get to where we are and it’ll take decades to get it changed.”

You can bet Salazar will be there, helping shepherd the process.

“We’re going to continue to do the work,” she said. “We’re just getting started.” 


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