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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Chatsworth

Car Show, Barbecue Benefits Boys Home

May 01, 2000|ZANTO PEABODY

More than 3,000 people turned out for a picnic and car show Sunday to benefit Rancho San Antonio, a school where teenage boys trade gang signs for crucifixes.

Event organizers hoped to raise $80,000--to be combined with a $150,000 grant and a donation from Classic Chevys of Southern California--to help pay for building and maintenance for a year. The school is funded by Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

For alumni, the 52nd annual barbecue was a homecoming--and a reminder of how much the campus has changed since the days when rough-and-tumble boys would butcher cows raised at the school for their dinner, and then run off to the military after graduation.

"This place saved me, that's why I wanted to come back," said Carlos Valdez, a retired Teamsters representative.

Valdez was sent to Rancho San Antonio in 1953 when a judge gave him one last chance to avoid going to jail for armed robbery.

"Here I learned that somebody loved me," Valdez said. "The brothers, the priest--I learned my own mother cared about me. That will change your life."

Valdez brought with him a 12-year-old orphan he hopes to enroll in the rancho, run by the Brothers of the Holy Cross.

The 100 students at the all-boys boarding school are wards of the court. They either have criminal records or the courts have removed them from their homes because of drugs or violence by family members.

During the fund-raiser, boys who once were members of rival gangs worked side-by-side at concession stands.

"It's OK," student Juan Perez said. "This is not the street. These are the same people I work the grounds with and go to group therapy with every morning. We came here to leave the gang, so it's all good."

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