When Yolanda Avila moved home to Colorado Springs in 2011, she was struck by the lack of public transportation, sidewalks and businesses in the Southeast. So she jumped in to make a difference and give back to her community.
Avila now serves as the representative for District 4, the Southeast region, on Colorado Springs City Council. Avila’s efforts have led to increased bus routes, planned bridges and parks, and economic development.
“I love being able to make an impact on this community. I know what it means to the residents in my district,” Avila said. “Even though I was already connected to a certain degree with my constituents, I’ve enjoyed becoming even more connected with them and serving them.”
Avila grew up in Colorado Springs, graduating from Colorado College in 1985 with a degree in political science. She then worked with nonprofit organizations in Denver and in 1990, she landed her “dream job” as an investigator with the Orange County Public Defender’s office in California.
In 1998, Avila was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that left her with a prognosis of blindness. Slowly losing her eyesight, Avila stopped driving in 2000. She continued her work as an investigator, mostly doing interviews by phone. In 2011, she retired and moved back to Colorado Springs to take care of her mother.
“When I returned to Southeast Colorado Springs, one-third of the lights were out, the sidewalks — if they existed — were deteriorating, the buses were running routes only Monday through Friday and they were done by 5:30 p.m.,” Avila recalled. “I thought, ‘What happened to my city? What happened to my district?’”
As someone who doesn’t drive, Avila recognizes the importance of public transportation. She became proactive in the transit sector, and within three years of her return to Colorado Springs, the Southeast had transit service seven days a week, including evening routes, Avila said.
She first sought office in 2015, but she said she tried to hide her eye condition, failing to complete surveys for different groups and ultimately losing the election. She ran again in 2017, fully embracing her disabilty, she said. She was elected to serve District 4.
Since then, Avila has helped route additional budget funding to her district, improved transportation, and facilitated road and sidewalk construction.
“Now, we actually have an Urban Renewal Authority project, which we’ve never had in Southeast before,” she said, “and we are working on developing a hub where people can gather and that will also serve as retail spaces.”
Panorama Park is also getting a much-needed makeover that will include a spray park, new ball fields, mosaics and more, Avila said.
“It’s going to be amazing,” she said.
Avila plans to continue pushing for more development in Southeast Colorado Springs and for more connectivity between Southeast and the rest of the city. She wants to see a multimodal transit station downtown that will support the entire city and, for her district, help better connect residents to downtown.
Avila says women and those with disabilities should know there are no boundaries to success.
“I’m at the intersection of being Mexican-American; I’m a woman; I’m going blind. I am really grateful for all the opportunities I have been given,” she said. “I do think it’s important that people know, especially women because we’re so under-represented, you can do it no matter what your situation is. Our five senses are only the tip of what we are. The depth and breadth of what we are is huge. When you are authentic and carry forward as your true self, you can do anything.”