Beating the Expectations, Believing in His Community

No one expected much from the kids who grew up in Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, Dove Springs had a reputation for poverty, drugs and gangs. For AFSCME member George Morales and his friend Robert Kibbie, being on their own and in the streets was a way of life.

“No one was there for us,” says Kibbie. “A lot of parents worked two jobs, and there were a lot of single parents. We were all in trouble. We were running the streets. Some of us made some bad choices growing up. We never had anyone to say that because you make some bad choices, it doesn’t have to be that way forever.”

Dove Spring’s reputation as a hard place to grow up might have been earned years ago, but today there are also plenty of signs of optimism, due in part to the hard work of Kibbie’s childhood friend, Morales.

A member of AFSCME Local 1624, Morales managed to resist the gang life, unlike many of those growing up in Dove Springs. Instead, he went on to a career in public service: first as a police officer in Lockhart, Texas, located outside Austin, and more recently as a constable, a position that lets him serve as a much-needed role model for kids in the lower-income areas of Austin’s Precinct 4.

And just as importantly, Morales’ constant presence and ongoing philanthropy in the Dove Spring community, where he still lives with his family, has changed the neighborhood for the better. It’s the reason Kibbie nominated Morales for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

 “George is the leader that everyone turns to,” says Kibbie. “I’m a bit older than him, but he’s my hero. I don’t look up to too many people here. If I could ever be like someone, it’d be him.”

For decades, Morales has hosted regular gatherings at the Dove Springs Recreation Center, an important community hub. Those gatherings include an annual back-to-school event, in which Morales and his wife, along with Kibbie and other local volunteers, stuff thousands of backpacks full of school supplies for local kids in need – more than 3,400 backpacks this year alone. There are also Halloween bashes, a free Thanksgiving dinner and other seasonal events.

Morales’ purpose goes beyond fostering a sense of community, beyond giving his neighbors a way to celebrate a holiday they might not be able to afford otherwise.

“I want to show people that if you see bad, you’ll do bad. But if you see good, you’ll do good,” says Morales.

As a constable, Morales serves warrants and other legal paperwork. If the role sounds cut-and-dried, the reality is the opposite: it’s an elected position that lets Morales connect with people one-on-one and share resources to help stem problems before those problems get too big. Although he’s an elected official and therefore not in the bargaining unit, he is voluntarily a dues-paying member of Local 1624 because he believes in the values of the union.

“I want to educate members of the community, motivate people and inspire,” says Morales. “Every day my officers are in the field. It’s about getting out the car and talking to people. I wanted to show the community that constables are more than paper deliverers.”

Morales and the peace officers he works with, many of whom come from the neighborhoods they serve, can be seen in the streets before sunrise until well after sundown. They attend neighborhood association meetings, school meetings, block parties, park cleanups and more.

Morales believes that one of the keys to success in serving communities like Dove Springs is “having people who look like you, act like you and talk like you.”

A father of four and grandfather of five, Morales says he can see the difference that community-centered events have made in Dove Springs over the years.

“We’ve lowered the dropout rate tremendously, the juvenile crime rate tremendously,” says Morales, who notes that high school graduation rates have also improved. “We have kids attending universities now.”

Despite whatever knocks people may make, Morales’ belief in his neighborhood remains steadfast: “Dove Springs has always been a community you can be proud of.”