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Ex-Gang Member Is Now a Role Model and Adviser to Youths at Risk

September 02, 1993

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 high school dropout. 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, such as no drugs or gang membership, keep your hands to yourself, no cursing, and speak in positive terms.

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

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

Through their activities, members come face to face with officials and 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.

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 got Gudino reinstated. Galvan 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. "He's done a lot of small things, but to me, they're big."

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

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Three Santa Fe High School students won awards at a recent national competition at a Future Business Leaders of America national leadership conference in Washington. Jennifer Chang won first place in the national competition for her job description manual, which will be published nationwide. Vi Pham placed second in machine transcription and Paula Wong finished eighth in word processing.

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A number of area residents have been named to city, county and school boards.

Long Beach Community Hospital nurse Rita Scott was appointed to the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services.

Margo Morales of Long Beach has been chosen president-elect of the Cal State University Alumni Council, which represents 2 million alumni of CSU.

Downey Councilwoman Joyce L. Lawrence has been reappointed to the Downey Cemetery District by the County Board of Supervisors. She also serves as a trustee with the Southeast Mosquito Abatement District.

Retired Cal State Long Beach professor Virginia Warren has been reappointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Aging. She is president of the panel.

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Downey resident Gary A. Morse was appointed to represent the Central Basin Municipal Water District on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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