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Saving the World Is Never-Ending Task

As she sat on the patio of her parents’ trailer home, 36-year-old Tina Fernandez remembered the day she realized she wanted to try to save the world.

“We had a film (in high school) on the Holocaust, and I remember the impression that that made on me . . . the hate,” Fernandez said. “And I thought, ‘How could anybody want to do that to somebody else?’ ”

Suddenly, social justice and human rights were important to her.

With her mentor, a history teacher, she began attending rallies in support of peace and women’s rights.

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Almost two decades later, Fernandez knows that solving the world’s problems is a never-ending task.

But she continues to work to improve the lives of those in her community through her work at the Orange County Human Relations Commission, by volunteering to help parents in the Irvine and Tustin school districts, or simply by translating government documents for some of the Latino families in the trailer park where she once lived.

“I think I am making (the world) a little better, and I figure that if my kids give a little bit back, and if everybody would give a little bit, we would be in a better situation,” she said.

Fernandez first worked for the Orange County Health Care Agency and later with the Social Services Agency--jobs that brought her into contact with the needy.

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Since 1988, Fernandez has focused on education in her job as human relations specialist with the Human Relations Commission. Through parent leadership programs and daylong student retreats, she teaches how to resolve conflicts and improve ethnic relations.

The job complements her volunteer activities with schools. She serves as vice chairman of Irvine Unified School District’s Parent Bilingual Advisory Council, is a member of a similar panel at College Park Elementary, and sits on the School Site Council at Venado Middle School.

Fernandez also became the unofficial negotiator for the trailer park residents three years ago when they found out that their children belonged in the Tustin Unified School District, and not in Irvine where they had attended school for so many years.

Surrounded by orange groves, the trailer park is “company-owned housing,” set aside for those who are employed in the fields. She discovered a loophole that allowed most of the students to stay in the Irvine system because their parents worked within district boundaries.

“If people are asking” for help, Fernandez said, “it’s because they really need help and I have a hard time saying ‘no.’ ”

Sometimes through her work, she said, she hears “obnoxious remarks” about Latinos who cannot speak English.

“I know I am not going to be able to change everybody’s mind and I don’t expect to,” Fernandez said.

But the open-mindedness of others keeps her going.

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“Those people are willing to listen and to find out what it is they can do,” she said. “And that’s really satisfying.”

* Tina Fernandez, 36. * Occupation: Human relations specialist, Orange County Human Relations Commission. * Organization: Works with community groups and schools.


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