Against all odds, Eddi Ortiz grew up good. Raised in one of Los Angeles’ most impoverished and dangerous areas, Eddi understands the temptation of gangs, the seduction of drugs and the fear of violence. He knows that most people who live in these neighborhoods do so because they’re stuck; bound to those streets like cement, with no options, no mobility, no chance. Most who leave do so in one of two ways: they die, or they succeed. The majority end up in the first group.
Eddi is different. He grew up there, but didn’t join a gang; he didn’t deal drugs, he didn’t commit crimes. He also didn’t have extraordinary advantages. His mother was a live-in nanny, so he and his brothers were raised by an uncle most of the week. He attended a school that even today is considered a failure in the LA Unified System, but he graduated, and began college. He has a good job where he is well respected.
Eddi is a success…and yet, he stays.
Eddi describes his decision to stay in the neighborhood more as a calling than a mere choice. He says he’s driven to be there by a heartfelt passion to give someone else the kind of chance he was once given.
During his elementary and middle school years, when other boys sought a place of belonging on the streets, Eddi was enrolled in a para los niños after school program. Here, he met a group of boys with a passion for sports, and a counselor who encouraged those activities, as well as the importance of staying in school. Looking back on it years later, Eddi realized he’d found the camaraderie of a gang in the sports program, and a model of success in that counselor. He knew then, that he had a vision for his own life: to help turn his neighborhood around and give the children who live there a more promising future. Once he’d made that decision, he simply couldn’t leave.
Like many who devote their lives to a cause, Eddi has sacrificed; he has a young child who now lives in another, safer, part of town. Though Eddi concedes he feels both relief and gratitude that his child lives beyond the violence of the neighborhood, it galvanizes him to do more.
As a Family Advocate/Behavior Assistant at Para Los Niños, Eddi works for the same organization that helped keep him on the right path so many years ago. In his job, Eddi works with parents who need help and middle school children experiencing behavioral problems. He links our mental health and social services with children at our schools, ensuring that more at-risk youth get the help they need. Like the counselor who meant so much to him, Eddi also coaches sports and gets involved in the community well beyond the scope of his job. He hopes his example will mean something to at least one boy, who will grow up good, and stay.