Josefina & Jennifer
A Family That Found a Home in Our Schools…
Every day on her way to her job, Josefina would pass the Para Los Niños Elementary School and wonder if she should stop in — it could be the right place for her little girl. A couple of co-workers had said good things about it. “I barely spoke English, I was working long shifts sewing in a garment factory, but I knew I wanted a better life for my little girl,” says Josefina Ruiz. “So one day I simply dropped in and they couldn’t have been more welcoming, I was treated like family.”
Josefina enrolled Jennifer into a Para Los Niños preschool that very day and Jennifer flourished, becoming a fluent English speaker by 3rd grade at the Charter Elementary School. “My time with Para Los Niños was like being with family,” Jennifer now says. “My teachers, my friends, and the way we all worked together — it made learning safe and supportive.” Jennifer continued with Para Los Niños for another decade and was the valedictorian of Para Los Niños’ first-ever eighth grade culminating class.
“Para Los Niños has become the center of our lives. All three of my daughters have been in the PLN schools. They gave my kids the education and confidence they will need to go on to college and build successful lives. Jennifer’s already on her way,” says Josefina.
One of Para Los Niños’ Original Youth From 1981…
Rafael Flores grew up on L.A.’s Skid Row, living in a single room with his Mom, Dad, Uncle, three brothers and two sisters. “There were addicts in the stairwells and hallways. Almost every day I’d see people shooting heroin, selling marijuana, uppers, downers, just about every drug you could think of. As a kid I had access to all of this,” said Ralph. But one day, when Ralph was seven years old, his world changed.
Ralph was playing in the parking lot of a fish factory one day when a woman named Tanya Tull approached and asked what he thought about having a youth center with a gym across the street. “I told her it sounded great!” said Ralph. And two weeks later, Para Los Niños opened the first youth center on Skid Row in an old firehouse at Sixth Street and Gladys. “Pretty soon, nearly three-quarters of the kids living in the hotels on Skid Row were going to the Para Los Niños center every day, after school. It was a real lifesaver for many of us.”
Ralph ended up staying with Para Los Niños through elementary, middle and high school. “As a teenager, it became a lifestyle.” Ralph’s experience with PLN eventually led to his first job as a counselor at the youth center during and after college. In fact, Ralph was a part of PLN from age seven until age 24 when he had an “opportunity to take things I learned at PLN and bring them to another part of the city,” he said. Ralph joined the Watts Labor Community Action Committee where today, 17 years later, he serves as the Project Director, continuing his work with disadvantaged youth and families. “Without PLN, some of my Skid Row friends joined gangs, some of them went to prison, a couple of them are dead. PLN changed and saved lives, including my own,” according to Ralph.
Concepción & Carlos
A Family in Crisis…
In 2011, Concepción was pregnant with her third child when she was hospitalized due to difficulties with her pregnancy. Concepción’s five-year-old daughter, Brianna, then a kindergarten student at the Para Los Niños Primary Education Center, suddenly became afraid she wouldn’t be able to continue going to school because her mother was in the hospital — who would take Brianna to school every day?
Brianna shared her story with the family advocate at the Primary Center who stepped in to assist, providing bus tokens that enabled Brianna’s grandmother to take her to school. “Families don’t know where to go for help. That is why Para Los Niños is so important,” says Concepción. “And this was just our first encounter with Para Los Niños.”
Soon thereafter, the recession hit the family hard and Concepción’s husband Carlos lost his construction job. When the family was denied food vouchers, the family advocate helped them reapply and their case was approved. PLN also provided counseling for Carlos as he struggled with what felt to him like an overwhelming situation. “Without Para Los Niños, I don’t know that we would still be a family. When I lost my job and wasn’t sure I’d ever be able support my family… well, there were times when I wanted to run away and leave it all behind,” says Carlos. “Para Los Niños helped keep my family together.”
“Para Los Niños has been there for us in a big way for many years now. We are so grateful for everything they have done for us and we see their kindness playing out in how our children are viewing the world,” says Concepción. “My eldest son, Jarod, came home from school recently and said, ‘I want to be a better person. I want to go into medicine to help others just like Para Los Niños has helped us’,” says Concepción. “He learned that from being a part of PLN.”