Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Omar Passons, United Way board member and lawyer for Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz
Omar Passons, an attorney, United Way board member, Rachel’s Women’s Center volunteer, and resident of North Park, has a passion for Mid-City. Omar Passons, an attorney, United Way board member, Rachel’s Women’s Center volunteer, and resident of North Park, has a passion for Mid-City.
See all Omar Passons posts on this blog and Omar Passons posts on SDER blog. Former foster child returns many favors
By Karla Peterson
March 4, 2014
In the ever-expanding adventure that is Omar Passons’ life, there is always room for one more great thing. One more North Park restaurant to visit. One more craft beer to try. More bike paths to travel with wife Erin, more “House of Cards” episodes to watch, more tweets to send.
But mostly, there is more good to be done. A United Way board meeting to attend. Voices for Children volunteers to recruit. A community park to check in on. Graffiti to be removed. The 38-year-old attorney never stops reaching out and giving back. And why should he? He learned early, and he learned from the best.
“My parents were pretty incredible, and I tell people I am involved now because I am so blessed,” said Passons, who went into foster care at 10 months old and was adopted by his first foster parents — Tom and Phyllis Passons — when he was 6. “I had parents who loved me, I got a good education and I have my health. I can give back, so I do.”
He was born in San Diego to a deaf mother who struggled with homelessness and mental-health issues. Passons was her fourth child, and the fourth to be taken away. But what could have been the beginning of a long, sad story for baby Omar was actually the start of a full and happy life.
In addition to Omar and their five biological children, the Passons took care of more than 100 foster children. Some of them were victims of abuse, others were medically fragile or severely injured. And all of them are a part of who Passons is now.
“I had black brothers and sisters, white brothers and sisters, I had brothers and sisters who were abused or neglected. I had a wide range of people who I called brother and sister,” Passons said over coffee at the Young Hickory cafe in North Park. “And because of that, what matters to me is being able to connect with people and connect with family.”
Passons grew up in Clairemont and Lemon Grove. The family moved to Benson, Ariz., when he was a teenager. (“It was interesting,” he says of being a black kid in that small town. “And not in a good way.”) Passons got his master’s degree in public health at the University of Arizona and his law degree from the George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. After a stint as a policy analyst with the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., Passons returned to San Diego. He is now an attorney with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, where he specializes in construction, land use and real estate cases.
And whether he was going to school in Arizona, or working in Washington or San Diego, Passons was doing volunteer work. He started an after-school tutoring program for a Boys & Girls Club in Arizona. He spent two years mentoring four young Somali brothers and three years working on the North Park Community Park project. Passons has volunteered for the Rachel’s Women’s Center and for the Voices for Children foster-child support group. And he continues to find time for community cleanup and graffiti-removal projects.
It helps that Passons can live on coffee, craft beer and no sleep. It really helps that he is a policy-geek who thrives on meeting people, tackling issues and helping public entities work for the public.
[Maura Larkins' comment: Mr. Passons' own statements indicate that he wants to help public entities work for the powerful than for the public as a whole.]
“You look at Omar and you can see how active he is in the community and how engaged he is. He doesn’t do anything halfway,” said Shaina Gross, vice president of impact strategies and mobilization for the United Way of San Diego County, where Passons is a board member. “I first saw his passion at a Voice of San Diego event at the Alpha Project tent for the homeless. He was there and listening and asking very thoughtful questions, and I thought, ‘This is the kind of person we need to help lead our organization.’”
Passons met his biological mother nine years ago. She drifts in and out of homelessness, but he stays in touch through email as best he can. His adoptive father died some time ago, but 81-year-old Phyllis Passons lives in La Mesa and often accompanies her son on his craft-beer excursions. An older brother, Tom Passons, works at Sea World and continues to be a best friend and role model. Passons has connected with a biological sister in Texas, and some of his many foster brothers and sisters are still part of his life.
And every day, Passons looks at the gifts of love and opportunity he was given and gets busy returning the favor.
“I have always believed that everyone has a talent or a small piece of themselves that can benefit someone else, and I definitely have a place in my heart for creating opportunities for young people,” Passons said. “Why not do something with the chances we have?”