Claudia Gambaro often looks for ways to help fellow state workers, but she never predicted she would become her union's expert in helping them avoid foreclosure.
But when the housing crisis hit Gambaro and tens of thousands of state employees, she wanted to help herself and others keep their homes.
Gambaro, an activist since junior high, realized that the information she received that helped her hang onto her house could help people suffering the same predicament because of furloughs.
Gambaro was able to pair her union, SEIU Local 1000, with Hope Against Hope, a Sacramento non-profit that helps financially challenged home owners, including those who owe more than their houses are worth. Since last fall, SEIU Local 1000 helped Gambaro organize more than a dozen homeowner counseling workshops, reaching more than 1,000 state workers all over California.
According to Gambaro, a biologist at the California Military Department:
Once I had the information to help myself, I thought ‘I know at least 95,000 other people who need this too’ so we started the workshops. Because of furloughs there are thousands of us at risk of losing our homes. We are all in this together.
Her leadership on homeowner issues is a natural outgrowth of lifelong activism that began when she in junior high school, continued through college life at Chico State University, nonprofits such as the Make A Wish Foundation and on to Local 1000 as a steward, Classification Bargaining Unit Representative and bargaining team member.
Gambaro, who was hired in 2001, became a steward in 2003. She sees the union as a place to channel her desire to be active and make a difference. She also came to see that our contract was a powerful tool to help fellow workers. Said Gambaro:
Knowledge is power – I believe that with my whole heart. And, you also must be your own best advocate; while you are advocating for yourself you may as well do so for others.
Gambaro isn’t just an advocate for those trying to avoid foreclosure—she herself was financially challenged by the furloughs. But she refused to sit back. Instead, she chose to be a leader in helping others.
These sorts of challenges seem to find me. I don’t care for conflict, but I am not willing to stand idly by and watch bad things happen to good people. That’s why I became a steward. There is much adversity in the world. We can’t fix everything, but we need to try to do what we can. We may not be changing the world here, but we are helping to change the path that some folks are on.