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Latino Fund Puts Money to Work

Community: Destino foundation's latest effort focuses on career and vocational training for more promising futures.

September 13, 2002|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It wasn't too long ago that Alfredo Pacheco was hunting for work, applying at one place after another but coming up empty each time. Then the Oxnard laborer found a way to turn his fortunes around.

Thanks to a summer training program, sponsored in part by the Destino 2000 endowment, the 21-year-old learned enough about construction to land a good-paying job that allowed him to help support his family and start carving a career path.

"It's the best thing to ever happen to me," said Pacheco, who now earns $11.55 an hour working for a company that is helping to build faculty housing at Cal State Channel Islands. "This is the best job I ever had."

Long known for its charitable efforts on behalf of the county's Latino community, Destino 2000 is stepping up efforts to provide vocational instruction and career guidance through a range of internships and work-training programs.

The Destino fund, established in 1996 by Latino philanthropists and community leaders, has contributed more than $200,000 to efforts to improve literacy, health care and parenting. The money also has been used to help foster youth leadership skills and curtail teen pregnancy, drug abuse and gang violence.

Those efforts have produced a slew of success stories, young people whose lives have been turned around because of the help provided by Destino dollars.

But in recent years, the endowment also has turned increasing attention toward programs that extend beyond such immediate concerns, focusing on efforts that can lift people economically and provide the foundation for lifelong changes.

"Our social programs are still at the core of what we do, but we want to broaden our efforts," said Hank Lacayo, a Destino 2000 founder and board member. "I'm interested in reaching those who otherwise might fall through the cracks if no one pays attention to them."

The Destino fund provided $2,500 in 1998 for youth employment training and $14,000 two years ago to train Latino students at Fillmore High School in business careers.

The endowment also has given $7,900 in the last two years to the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard to hire and train interns.

The museum has hired three so far, including Ventura resident Arturo Jaramillo. The 41-year-old Cal State Northridge student was supposed to be a summer intern but performed so well that his tenure was extended through the fall.

Jaramillo, an aspiring teacher and artist who started at the museum in June, has learned all about its operations, from how to select exhibits to how to give tours. He also has given presentations at schools.

"They are teaching me [about] all levels and departments of the art museum," said Jaramillo, who, unbeknownst to him, was nominated for the Carnegie internship by the instructor of an art class he had taken.

"It was really a blessing," he said. "I don't know how I would have ever gotten this opportunity."

Susan Lefevre, the museum's curator of education, said the blessing works both ways.

"The neat thing about it is the high caliber [of intern] we have gotten," she said. "We are very pleased that the Destino foundation has looked favorably on us."

One of Destino's most recent vocational endeavors was a $5,000 grant to the Tri Counties Labor Foundation to help fund a first-time training and certification program held this summer for construction workers.

While most of the $120,000 for that program came from Laborers-AGC, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving education and training in the construction trade, Destino's money allowed the labor foundation to provide boots, tool belts and other supplies necessary for program participants to get work once they completed the training.

"Some of them couldn't go to work without these things, so it really [filled a] need," said Marilyn Valenzuela, president and executive director of the Oxnard-based foundation.

El Rio resident Clemente Echaveste decided to go through the program after being laid off from a construction job this year. The five-day-a-week program taught him how to put up drywall, install wiring, build stairs and operate heavy equipment.

He also earned certification to handle everything from asbestos to hazardous waste.

After completing the program, Echaveste received a diploma and a job offer from a Ventura excavation business.

"I wasn't really prepared for anything like this," said Echaveste, 26. "It helps give you a better chance of getting a job."

Alfredo Pacheco feels the same way.

In fact, if not for the training program, he believes he likely would have been stuck in a dead-end job, doing general labor for a fraction of the pay.

"It's a really good program," he said. "I appreciate the opportunity. Believe me, I don't take it for granted."

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