A local priest who has made it his mission to transform the lives of some of the region’s forgotten and ignored youth will be honored next week as a Local Hero by Union Bank and KCETLink.
Father Richard Estrada, founder and board president of nonprofit Jovenes Inc., is one of two individuals singled out for recognition during Hispanic Heritage Month: the other is Robert García, founding director and counsel of nonprofit The City Project.
The Local Heroes program recognizes and pays tribute to exemplary leaders who are making a difference and enriching the lives of others by improving their workplace, community, region and the world, according to the award announcement from Union Bank and KCETLink.
Founded in 1991, Boyle Heights based Jovenes Inc. helps homeless youth get off the streets and into a safe haven where they can start to turn their lives around with the help of supportive services and resources, such as case management, employment, life skills training, leadership development and mental health assistance.
Father Estrada told EGP that while he is personally honored to have been chosen by Union Bank and KCETLink, more importantly the award gives him the opportunity to talk about ministering to the needs of young people left behind by society.
“It’s recognition that they exist,” he said.
“So many of these young men, especially those who come from foster care, or who are separated by immigration, have a whole lot of pressure and problems, and this award allows me to talk to people in a bigger arena” about the challenges they face, Father Estrada told EGP during a recent phone interview. He said it gives him a chance to talk about the help they need to provide Jovenes’ youth opportunities and skills to reach their goals and become productive members of society.
Father Estrada told EGP that it means a lot that people he knows pushed his nomination.
“Wow, that’s a real honor,” he says he thought when he was informed of the honor.
“I am excited, people I am close to are very excited,” he said. “I’m 71 years old, I’m not retiring, I’ve been at this for a very long time,” he said.
“So many of us that have been around in the Chicano movement, immigrant rights movement, we have so many experiences and stories to tell. We really want to connect with young people to keep continuing in La Lucha (the struggle),” Father Estrada told EGP. “Not only as mentors, but as elders” of the civil rights movement, he said.
He acknowledges that progress has been made since he first started in the civil rights movement, but believes there is still a lot more to accomplish. He hopes it is a challenge that will be taken up by the next generation of young people, especially Latino immigrants, “the dreamers,” he said. “Hopefully their activism will continue, and they will not forget after they get their diplomas and citizenship,” he added.
He said the challenge to get people involved is greater today. “I have done this before, I am familiar with the territory. I want the great kids at Jovenes to become great men.”
“I would love for all the youth at Jovenes to become part of the movement, but I understand that they have a lot of work to do getting their life together, it’s really hard,” he said. “I’m inspired by them,” he said.
Like Father Estrada, Robert García has also been making a positive difference for many years. The City Project’s legal and policy advocacy team engages, educates and empowers communities of color and low-income communities.
Working with community allies, Mr. García and The City Project helped stop the building of 32 acres of warehouses near Chinatown, instead bringing about the opening of the Los Angeles State Historic Park, also known as the Cornfield. He also helped prevent land on the Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard to be used to repair railroad cars.
“We are proud to recognize these two remarkable men who give so much of themselves,” said Union Bank Senior Executive Vice President Pierre P. Habis, head of Community Banking. “Their passion for improving our communities is admirable, and while they positively influence all of our lives, the impact they have on our youth and underserved is extraordinary.”