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SOUTHEAST AREA : Group Helps Make Tomorrow's Leaders

August 08, 1993|MARY HELEN BERG

As students, they don't fit the profile of typical class leaders. Many of them have average grades, some are on probation for truancy or tagging, others have dropped out.

But Larry Galvan of Cudahy believes that sometimes leaders are made, not born. When the 50 members of Galvan's Tri-Cities Youth Leadership Council gather weekly behind the Bell Community Center, Galvan tells them: "You're going to do it (succeed) and do it on your own, but I'll be behind you and won't let you fail."

Galvan, 49, was raised in Chicago gangs and describes himself as a former underachiever and former high school drop out. He said he "just woke up one day" and decided to get his high school diploma and earn an associate's degree at night school.

In 1989, Galvan and a small youth group broke off from the junior division of the League of United Latin American Citizens to form the nonprofit youth council. It welcomes any youngster from Cudahy, Bell and Maywood who is in junior or senior high school, but Galvan enforces many rules: no drugs or gang membership, keep your hands to yourself, no cursing, speak in positive terms, do your best.

Youths must sign an anti-drug/anti-gang pledge when they join. And Galvan, who has served on the advisory council for several local schools, stresses academic effort.

The purpose of the group, Galvan said, is to "enhance moral character, leadership skills, community involvement and awareness of what's happening around us."

Members meet weekly for workshops in everything from team work and parliamentary procedure to how to talk to adults. The group holds fund-raisers and joins community projects, such as citizenship drives and graffiti and neighborhood cleanups.

Through their activities, members come face to face with elected officials and other community leaders.

"(Galvan) exposes them to different parts of the world," said Christopher Montoya, citizenship outreach coordinator for the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "He takes them out of their neighborhood where there may be violence or other problems and shows them the other side. Then they say 'Hey, I can do that (succeed) too.' "

Four-year youth council member Sandra Castellon, 17, recently landed a spot as an intern with Assemblywoman Martha M. Escutia (D-Huntington Park) as a result of her work with the Latino association's citizenship drives. Galvan hand-delivered the application for a leadership conference making her eligible for the job, because he feared she would lose out if the application were late.

Castellon, a recent graduate of Bell High School, called Galvan a role model: "He keeps us busy and tries to show us the positive way in life. Whenever we need help in school, he's there."

For Andrew Gudino, 17, Galvan has been there a lot. When Gudino dropped out of Bell High School his freshman year, Galvan went to the principal and asked for Gudino's reinstatement, which was granted. He calls Gudino with tips on jobs and encourages him to think about his future.

"He helped me get my mind straight on what I wanted to do," Gudino said.

Young people need to be taught to be responsible for themselves and their community, Galvan said.

One of Galvan's goals is to secure a grant to open a youth center for the group. Meetings are conducted in the park behind the Bell Community Center or in his home.

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