YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Orange County Focus

Countywide : Homeless Youth Is Lavished With Gifts

December 24, 1993|MIMI KO

Cesar Mondragon couldn't understand why a room full of strangers were lavishing gifts on him Thursday.

The 17-year-old Saddleback High School student said he never got a Christmas present before.

Now he has a mountain bike, clothes, movie passes, gift certificates for food at grocery stores and restaurants and a two-week paid stay in a hotel.

Mondragon, an A and B student, is homeless.

"I feel like my heart is going to explode," he said after opening the gifts from employees of a Fountain Valley construction company.

He said he couldn't believe their generosity.

"I never received anything from anybody before in my life, and to have people who I don't even know do these things for me is something I feel right here," Mondragon said, clutching his fist over his heart.

Mondragon first became homeless in Mexico City when he was 10.

His father moved to the United States and his mother left him on the streets when she moved away with a boyfriend.

Mondragon was left alone, having to fight for everything he owned, including his shoes and clothes.

He said the streets were dangerous, and he was almost raped by a man who offered him a hot shower and meal when he was 11.

He traced his father to Santa Ana and moved in with him in 1990. But after numerous disputes, he was told to leave, he said.

Mondragon has been living at friends' homes or parks since September. Friends give him food and clothing when possible.

"When I was younger, I used to cry until I couldn't cry any more. And when I almost got raped, I decided I wanted to die with dignity," Mondragon said. "I have pride because I know that if I believe in myself, I can overcome anything--even the worst pain in the world."

The youth's determination to survive and his will to continue studying in hopes of becoming a doctor moved Bill Burgess, owner of Pacific Pavers.

On Tuesday, Burgess had called the Santa Ana Unified School District, seeking a needy student who could use a donated mountain bike.

When he learned about Mondragon and then told his employees about the boy, Burgess said, everyone wanted to help.

They organized the company Christmas party and invited Mondragon to be their honored guest.

Burgess said they will keep in touch with Mondragon throughout the years and offer him a job.

"Everybody gets so caught up in work and everything that we kind of forget about the Christmas spirit and what life is all about," said Burgess, 41.

"Cesar needs help, so we're going to adopt him as our little brother."

Los Angeles Times Articles