Nancy Saiz

Nancy Saiz, a community development specialist with the city of Madison, with her husband, Sean, right, meets with a group about putting in an indigenous garden at the UW Arboretum.

Officially, she manages and oversees city of Madison contracts for nonprofit organizations that get funding for community development.

In day-to-day reality, Nancy Saiz supports those touched by domestic or other violence, immigrants and those who live in poor or isolated neighborhoods, and is an advocate for civil rights, diversity and racial equity.

Saiz, 43, was born in Mexico City, one of seven siblings. In 1984, when she was 9, her family moved to San Antonio, Texas, for a better life. She moved here when she came on scholarship to earn an undergraduate degree at UW-Madison.

She drew inspiration, and still does, from her upbringing — an elementary school ESL teacher who had patience and caring for students who didn’t speak English; the Guadalupe Community Center in West San Antonio, which was a safe place away from home; and her oldest sister, Fanny, who couldn’t attend college because she lacked the proper documentation.

“Her broken heart devastated me but encouraged me,” she said. “One of us was going to make it.”

Saiz met her husband, Sean Saiz, a Madison native, at the university, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social welfare with a minor in Spanish, a certificate in Chicano Studies and a master’s degree in social work.

She worked as a community outreach specialist for Access Community Health Centers before joining the city, where she began as a neighborhood liaison before taking her current position, which she has held for seven years.

Her reach into the community extends far beyond her community development specialist job title. Saiz serves on a Community Safety Intervention Team that’s forging a coordinated response to gun violence and the Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team. She is civil rights coordinator for the Community Development Division. She’s on the city’s Neighborhood Resource Teams for the Leopold-Arbor Hills and Owl Creek areas. She is a member of the city’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative, Multicultural Affairs Committee and Latino Community Engagement Team.

She also works part time for the District Attorney’s Office’s Victim Witness Unit, is secretary for the Dane County Johnson O’Malley Program and Madison School District Title VI parent groups, both of which help indigenous populations, and is on the executive committee of the Latino Support Network (LaSup).

Saiz and her husband have three children, all born and raised in Madison. Their two sons attend the University of New Mexico and Stanford University, and a daughter is starting at West High School in the fall. For leisure, Saiz enjoys gardening at her home.

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What do you like most about your work?

Working on institutional change. This is slow and difficult work, but when you start seeing change it is very encouraging.

Where do you see it occurring?

I became involved in the Racial Equity Social Justice Initiative when it began in 2013. This is when I began to pay more attention to how the city spoke and did business with marginalized communities. I also began to realize my spheres of influence in the spaces I was invited. The change I have noticed is around how the city speaks, tries to listen and does outreach. I have also witnessed this institution stop, think and talk about unintended consequences. As the city of Madison, we have a long way to go, but we have started.

From your perspective, what are the community’s greatest unmet needs?

There is an overall lack of understanding how historical and generational trauma has affected specific communities. There is much healing that needs to happen. I realize I work for a government entity that had a role in removing people from their homeland. I try to work from a healing place, and stay vigilant about the unintended harm caused. The disparities we see today have a correlation with the historical oppression done by the government to various communities. As a government, we need to recognize our past and present role in the harm we cause and figure out a way to support healing.

What more can the city do to support nonprofits?

As the institutional narrative changes and people within the institution understand their influence, the city needs to move into action. One way we can do this is by creating deeper partnerships with our nonprofits.

What keeps you caring and engaged?

My past and present experiences, my children and nephews, the people I continue to meet and have been touched by something I have worked on.

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