Women of Influence: Denise Ortega – Division Clerk/Bonding Agent Clerk (7760)

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Her grandfather, Leonard Flores, was an activist who hosted a radio show on the Spanish-speaking station in Pueblo. He read poetry and made political speeches. His brother, Timothy, was a Washington lobbyist based in Denver. Uncle Tim was one of the founders of the AFL-CIO, a national federation of labor unions.

Timothy Flores’ face is included in the mosaic display at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, part of its tribute to Hispanic pioneers.

“It’s always been in my blood to do this, to fight for civil rights for everybody. When I was growing up, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” said Ortega, a division clerk and bonding agent clerk at the Colorado Springs Municipal Courthouse. “I kept getting better and better jobs in the legal field, and it afforded me the opportunity to do work where I was valuable during the day.”

Ortega’s work with the Latino Unity Council and the Latino Alliance of Colorado Springs are her true passions. Her accomplishments for the Hispanic community are also what endeared her to Brenda Quinones, who nominated Ortega for Women of Influence.

“She has such broad dreams for the Latino people and she’s working so hard to help our people improve themselves,” said Quinones, chief operating officer of Zechnas Inc., a company that provides voice, video and data integrators. “She’s very hardworking and diligent and optimistic.”

The community-based Latino Unity Council is a nonprofit organization-a group of residents who are concerned about educational and career opportunities for Latino youth. The group meets monthly and discusses which projects to undertake, one of which is the Youth Leadership Conference.

High school students venture to Pikes Peak Community College to experience what life on a college campus would be like, where there are opportunities for scholarships and question-and-answer sessions. The teens get hands-on experience in vocations such as automotive, health care, police and fire departments, military and high-tech.

Ortega’s other chief interest is The Latino Alliance of Colorado Springs. The alliance has about 25 member organizations and began as an outreach program for the Hispanic community.

“What we thought we would do is facilitate a roundtable group in which all of the service organizations in Colorado Springs could come together and unify their services, network, community and work better with each other,” Ortega said.

A group or individual typically asks for help, and is then encouraged to give a presentation to the alliance. Afterward, someone among those 25 member organizations can help, or knows someone who can. “It’s really opened a lot of doors for communication and opportunity,” Ortega said. “It’s a great kind of energy.”

For nearly 13 years, Ortega has worked for the Colorado Springs Municipal Court. As clerk to 14 judges, she said she finds her work inherently meaningful. She takes care of sentencing orders, which creates paperwork-a lot of paperwork. The steady stream of paper that flows from putting people in jail, bonding them out and conducting trials requires a steady, detail-oriented person.

Ortega, too, is accountable for knowledge of past and current laws and ordinances. She was a key player in creating a new computer program for the court system. “It’s something that makes a difference to people. What I do affects a person’s daily life. What I do matters and I want to do it right.”

Before her current job, Ortega spent nearly three years with the Colorado Springs Police Department as the front desk clerk, and completed 296 hours of training at the Police Academy. She has held a variety of legal jobs. Ortega was a legal secretary for The Schuck Corp., an assistant division clerk for the State of Colorado Judicial Department, an extraditions secretary for the El Paso County Office of the District Attorney and an office manager for Attorney Joe T. Ulibarri.

“I have been working for the city for so long and doing diversity initiatives that only benefited city workers,” she said. “I had always liked to work in the community. I wanted to work for the citizens.”

So she started looking around for a way to get involved and saw a notice for a meeting of the Latino Unity Council. She started attending meetings in 1998, and hasn’t stopped.

Ortega admires Judge Theresa Cisneros, who was appointed to the bench in January 1997. Before that, Cisneros was a lawyer, and Ortega worked alongside her. “She has had to lead a very public life, and in my opinion, she’s led it very well,” Ortega said. “She has her convictions and sticks to them even through controversial times.”

Another of Ortega’s passions is CASA of the Pikes Peak Region. CASA, or Court-Appointed Special Advocates, is a local program based on a national model in which volunteers are assigned to the case of a child involved in the legal system. The advocate shadows the child from start to finish.

Typically, the child is in the system as part of a custody, parenting or neglect case. Each parent has a lawyer, often the child has a lawyer, and then there are social workers, DCF case workers, therapists and welfare bureaucrats. Sometimes the child is forgotten. The advocate is assigned to think only about the welfare of the child.

Ortega talks to everyone involved, gets each perspective and prepares reports for the judge.

What are the reports like? “This is what the child feels or is experiencing. This is what the child wants. This is what the teacher said. It’s a whole different perspective on the child for the judge,” Ortega said. “CASA is hugely successful, and able to take kids and really make a difference in their lives in the system-basically, to get them out of the system.”

Ortega has one son, Adam, who is 18. She has five brothers – most of whom reside in the Pueblo area. She loves salsa dancing, because, as she says, “it’s great exercise.”

This Woman of Influence was puzzled by the attention. “I was surprised; it is very nice to be recognized for doing something you love doing,” she said. “I would be doing it anyway without any recognition.”