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Ex-Salvation Army Officer to Head Cudahy Service Center : Overcoming the Plight of Those in Need

November 29, 1987|KIRK JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

CUDAHY — When Ramon and Estela Castillo were told they would have to move out of their rented Bell home because the walls had been cracked by the Oct. 1 earthquake, they did not know where to go.

For a month the couple and their three children, ages 2 1/2 to 12, were homeless. During the day Estela sought shelter--first in a Bell park, then at a Red Cross center--while Ramon worked. At night they slept in the family van, parked in his sister's driveway.

Lacking enough in savings to rent a place, they tried getting a $5,000 loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But they were sent a letter saying the $1,200 a month that Ramon made as a metal worker would not provide him with the money to pay it back. They sought out a federal rent subsidy program for low-income tenants, but were told that applications were not being accepted because of a long waiting list.

The situation became so bad that Ramon considered sending his family to Juarez, Mexico, to stay with relatives while he looked for a home.

The family's luck changed in mid-October, however, after a counselor at their daughter's elementary school introduced them to Jim Graham.

Plans for Center

A 44-year-old former Salvation Army officer, Graham plans to open a social services center in nearby Cudahy in December. But when he met the Castillos, he had already begun to receive calls from others in need. Among them were a battered wife from Huntington Park, a mentally retarded couple from Cudahy and a family from Bell whose apartment had been destroyed by fire.

Graham found the Castillos a new home in Bell Gardens and persuaded the Red Cross to pay their first month's rent and a security deposit. When the Red Cross declined to pay cleaning and key charges for the house, Graham persuaded their previous landlord to return a security deposit the couple had made to him.

Then he got them a stove and some furniture.

Castillo said that without Graham, he would be "living in the streets (in) my house on wheels."

Graham, 44, has been involved in social services since childhood, when he helped his parents, both Salvation Army officers, care for homeless people.

"You kind of form a camaraderie if you work with people who are in need," Graham said, "and you become sensitive to them."

Graham was a Salvation Army officer himself for four years in the late 1960s and, after a few years in the business world, returned as a civilian employee in 1974. He worked as a social services administrator for the next decade, running Salvation Army programs in Victorville, Long Beach, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Graham was director of community development at the Hawaiian Gardens Social Services Agency earlier this year when he was told by a friend that officials in Cudahy were thinking about opening a center in their community. The Cudahy City Council was cautious when Graham laid out his proposal to operate the facility, particularly when he said he would need $87,000 to start.

"We didn't know where we could get money from," Cudahy Mayor John Robertson recalled. "We found out that Community Block Grants would be available and that they (Graham's project) would be eligible."

The city obtained $50,000 in grants for what is to be the Cudahy Social Service Agency Inc. And officials also came up with a building--a vacant industrial building owned by the city's Redevelopment Agency at Elizabeth Street and Otis Avenue. A $25,000 renovation--also financed by the city--was completed in October.

Graham, who describes himself as a staunch Republican who preached the concept of private sector initiative long before it was touted by the Reagan Administration, hopes to eventually sever all financial ties to the city.

"I have proven before and I will prove again that these programs can be run through private-sector fund-raising," he said confidently, noting that he raised $175,000 while at the Hawaiian Gardens center and more than $265,000 when he was director of the Long Beach homeless shelter from 1983 to 1984.

Graham says he hopes to raise $10,000 a month in private donations starting in December and to have a paid staff of five by February. The center will use from 12 to 20 volunteers.

Graham said he will receive an annual salary of $35,000.

Graham is even considering applying for a city license to raise money through bingo. Cudahy City Manager Gerald Caton said that could be done without much trouble, since a 1982 city ordinance legalized card clubs and charitable bingo games.

Graham describes the Hawaiian Gardens center as a prototype of the Cudahy center. Although the city government initially provided $20,000 in seed money, the center's operating expenses come mainly from donations and fund-raising activities, according to Executive Director Leonard Chaidez. The center operated with a budget of about $76,000, Chaidez said.

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