A milestone in a mission to provide opportunities to disenfranchised Mexican Americans was celebrated last week, when a group of elected officials, members of the community, local business owners and current and former clients gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation, as well as the legacy of its founder, Dionicio Morales.
Speaking during a reception held Feb. 7 at MAOF’s headquarters in Montebello, President and CEO Martin Castro recalled Morales’ fight for an ethnic group whose needs had been neglected, prompting the founding of the non-profit dedicated to creating opportunities in the Latino community by offering a cadre of services, including low-coast or free child cares, job training and senior and youth programs.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: MAOF Celebra 50 Años de Servicio a la Comunidad 
“Tonight is a tribute to the legacy he has left behind,” Castro told the crowd. “It is a legacy of hope for thousands of children and families, for our youth and for our senior citizens.”
According to Castro, the organization provides childhood education to 3,000 preschoolers year round and assists another 5,000 children and families through subsidized child-care services. MAOF operates 53 facilities in 7 counties and employs over 650 employees.
“MAOF operates the largest home-based head-start program in the nation,” Castro told the crowd.
But it hasn’t always been that way, getting to where they are today has been a challenge. Castro and other speakers recalled Morales’ willingness to take chances, to create opportunities where some thought they had no chance.
Laughter and applause filled the room as Castro recalled how Morales decided to call the president of the United States in an effort to keep the agency from going under early on when the organization faced a lack in funds. He didn’t get to speak to President John F. Kennedy, but did get a meeting with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Secretary of Labor, which resulted in MAOF obtaining its first job-training contract in 1964; they received $37,000.
Castro told EGP the organization’s 50th anniversary is a significant indicator of what the non-profit has been able to accomplish.
“To be around for that long means you’ve had people running a quality organization and quality programs for the community,” he said.
MAOF’s menu of services has grown since getting that first contract nearly 50 years ago.
Today, MAOF provides services to Spanish-speaking seniors, food banks that provide meals for over 400 low-income families and job training programs for youths and adults in East L.A. and Kern County, in addition to its job training and childcare programs.
MAOF Vice President Vicky Santos told EGP the 50th anniversary translates to 50 years of helping the community.
She said MAOF’s being around for 50 years translates to countless numbers of people being able to get jobs or stay employed. MAOF provided childcare to those low-income families that couldn’t afford otherwise to leave their children with someone that provides quality care,” Santos said.
Since the recession, however, MAOF has received $10 million less in funding from the state, according to Santos.
“That’s 300 children less that will get the services we provide,” she said.
She hopes MAOF will eventually get back some of the funds lost over the years so they can provide even more services that would benefit the community.
MAOF Board Chair Carlos Viramontes told EGP that while funds are tight, he hopes the organization, which started out as a small jobs training program and has evolved into a major player in childcare and senior citizen programs, will continue to get the word out to the community, which benefits from its services, that their support is needed.
“It’s been a constant effort,” Viramontes said. “But whatever we do, the purpose we have in mind, is of somehow empowering the community.”
Other speakers included former U.S. Congressman Esteban Torres, Mexican Consul General in Los Angeles David Figueroa Ortega and LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Each spoke about the work and legacy of Morales, reminiscing about their encounters with him.
“Its very amazing how far we’ve come,” Molina said. “This is what he worked for every single day of his life… He was the one laying the bricks and paving the road for someone like myself to have the opportunities that I have today.”
Castro told the crowd that their work is not done and they remain committed to offering opportunities to every Latino that seeks them out.
Claudia Arreola overseas MAOF’s child development services and sees a gap in the larger community’s understanding of the importance of the services offered by MAOF. “We want to make sure our children get the quality care that not a lot of children in the community get,” Arreola said. “Locally they know who MAOF is, but when you venture out to the other counties they don’t know who MAOF is,” indicating the same level of quality should be expected by all people using childcare, and MAOF has developed the tools needed to provide high quality childcare.
Castro told EGP he invites the community to take a tour of its facilities and check out the services the organization offers.
“They need to call our number, they need to come here so that they can get an understanding of what we do because if they can’t benefit from our services, maybe they know a neighbor or someone that can.”
For more information about the services offered through MAOF visit www.maof.org or call (323) 890-9600.