Merced NAACP chief's focus on youth

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comMarch 25, 2013 

CW NAACP Merced President

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT/cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.com Merced NAACP President Loretta Spence, 59 of Merced, stands in the lobby of the Merced Boys and Girls Club on Friday (3-22-13). Spence spoke at a community forum held at the Boys and Girls Club. Spence is also on the steering committee for the organization, Building Healthy Communities, and received the Phenomenal Woman award at Stanislaus State on Sunday (3-24-13) for her work in the community.

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT

Those who know Loretta Spence say there's hardly a day in the week she's not dedicating her time to improving the community.

Whether she's giving career advice to a young person at the Boys & Girls Club, or handing adults pointers about being better parents, it's not rare to hear Spence's name and "community service" mentioned in the same sentence.

Recently, Spence added a new hat to her collection of community service duties. Last month, the 59-year-old longtime Mercedian was appointed as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Merced branch. Spence was selected by the group's executive board, and will oversee the operations of the civil rights organization, which has been in existence in Merced since 1937.

On Sunday, Spence also was one of five woman presented with Delta Sigma Theta's "Phenomenal Woman Award" during a program at California State University, Stanislaus, with renowned poet Nikki Giovanni.

One of her visions for the local NAACP branch is to extend the group's outreach to youth, and focus on youth education and violence prevention. Those aims, she said, come from her lifelong concern for young people in crisis.

Caring about the community's youth isn't just about volunteering for Spence. Case in point, as a foster parent for 30-plus years, she estimates she's shared her household with more than 40 young people. Many of those youths have gone on to lead successful lives in many professions.

She doesn't close the door on those foster kids once they turn 18 years old, and allows them the necessary time to stand on their own feet.

"So many youth are out there and they don't have the mentoring and the guidance," she said. "And they're looking for it. They want it. But they just don't know how to get it."

In shaping the NAACP's goals, Spence said she wants to hear from community members about the issues that are important to them. She will hold a feedback gathering session that's open to the public at 6:30 tonight at the Perry-Yokley Center, 740 Canal St., in Merced.

Spence has lived in Merced since 1969, when her family moved here from Oakland. Spence said her father wanted a slower pace of life for his family.

She worked for Merced County for 29 years, retiring in 2009 as an employment and training specialist in the Department of Workforce Investment, where she conducted workshops to help residents find jobs.

The list of groups with which Spence has volunteered over the years reads like a virtual "who's who" of community service agencies. In the past, she's volunteered with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Merced County. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to ensure children have advocates in the court system and to help make sure they are placed in safe homes with appropriate families.

Spence sits on the steering committee of Building Healthy Communities and volunteers with the Merced Boys & Girls Club, along with a pilot program called Save Our Youth.

In the Save Our Youth program, Spence regularly meets with at-risk young people, and tries to change their outlook on life. She's a good listener, who doesn't judge and is always willing to help.

"Some of them don't even know they have skills," she said. "Some don't even know they're somebody. ... We need to let them know they're worth something and they're a human asset."

People who've worked with Spence over the years say she'll make a positive impact in her role as Merced's NAACP president.

Ida Johnson, president of the Merced Union High School District's board of trustees, said she's known Spence for about 10 years, having worked with her on many community programs, such as CASA.

"Some people, when they see a need, they act upon it," said Johnson. "She has a gift for working with with youth. It's just a part of her nature."

Alicia Rodriguez, a Planada activist who knows Spence through her work with Building Healthy Communities, said Spence remains positive in the midst of challenges. Rodriguez said Spence is well-regarded for the concern she has for youths in crisis.

"Loretta is someone that I am really inspired by. She has done so many things for the community of Merced," Rodriguez said. "She doesn't let anything get in her way -- she keeps on going."

Though she's retired, Spence said she has no plans of slowing down.

"I'm used to it," she said, smiling. "People will tell you I'll go nonstop until I am in the hospital."

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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