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Donors Help Priest Keep Bargain With 3 Boys Who Avoided Gangs

School: Father Greg Boyle promised a Hawaiian vacation but didn't have the money. Then he received a big boost from those who could relate.

July 18, 2001|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the three Boyle Heights boys walked the stage in their caps and gowns in June, they'd kept their end of the bargain: graduating from Roosevelt High School without joining a gang.

But the priest in the audience, who four years ago promised them a vacation to Hawaii if they succeeded, didn't know how he would pay up.

Now he knows.

After the story of their deal was profiled in The Times, Father Greg Boyle and teacher Cara Gould were overwhelmed with offers to help finance the trip from readers all over the city--and beyond.

The trip will occur probably the second week of September--after Richard Chagollan, Edgar Delgado and Leo Ochoa finish a summer program at Cal State Los Angeles and before they start fall classes.

"It really means a lot that [readers] went out of their way to do this for us because they didn't really have to do anything," said Ochoa, 17. "But there's very nice and loving people out there."

The wide response not only brought financial help but it also validated their efforts to keep children out of gangs, Gould said.

"This work is challenging, and it's nice to hear the reinforcement from outside people," she said. "For both Greg and I, it was reinforcing and powerful."

Boyle is the priest known for his intervention work with gang members on the Eastside. He first came to the Dolores Mission church in the Pico-Aliso housing project in the mid-1980s. Gould was a teacher at the church's alternative high school.

The three boys lived in the project, where it's common for boys with older brothers in the gang to also join.

When the boys were sixth-graders, Gould made them a deal: If they graduated from middle school without joining a gang, she would take them to Universal Studios.

After they earned that trip, Boyle challenged them to finish high school.

Their story ran days before their high school graduation. Soon, there came "incredibly sweet" letters from readers, Gould said.

They were from successful men and women who remembered the challenge of growing up around gangs.

They were from teachers and mentors all over the city who could relate intimately with Boyle's and Gould's efforts to try to put young people on the right path.

They were from all kinds of folks who just wanted to help.

Individuals' donations totaled $5,000--including the one from a 12-year-old boy who sent $20 from his allowance.

A foundation gave $10,000. Two airlines offered plane tickets. A Hawaii tour company offered accommodations.

There were more offers. But Boyle and Gould had more than they needed to pay for a week on the island for the three boys and a chaperon.

They told other donors that if they still wanted to give, their donations would be used toward the three boys' educations or to encourage other boys like them.

Indeed, some of the money will be used for the trio's first year in college.

"I was really surprised," says Delgado, 17. "I didn't think so many people would care."

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