Hilda Pacheco-Taylor with the orphans at the Hacienda Orphanage in Baja, Mexico. (Courtesy Hilda Pacheco-Taylor)

Hilda Pacheco-Taylor with the orphans at the Hacienda Orphanage in Baja, Mexico. (Courtesy Hilda Pacheco-Taylor)

10 Latinos with heart in 2012

This year we’ve seen a rise in homelessness, unemployment, a dire need for education and mentors, as well as devastation as a result of Hurricane Sandy. However, we must commend those Latinos who have come to the rescue in various ways. Here are just a few that deserve our standing ovation:

1. Woman on a mission to help homeless students in Las Vegas
Angela Urquiaga goes to work at 5:30am so she can open the doors to homeless students who sleep by Rancho High School’s steps. She doesn’t have to be there so early, but she knows for some, the school is their only haven. She began helping homeless students in 2001, when there were only seven or eight in Las Vegas. Today, there are more than 5,000. In the last 11 years, she says she’s helped more than 3,000 homeless students with the aid of everyday people willing to give a few dollars, or donate clothes and toiletries.
Read more here.

2. Man uses a gift of $280 to educates his community
When Angelo Cabrera came to the U.S. alone, at the age of 14, from Puebla, Mexico, he was homeless and had no other choice than to work 14-hour days locked in the basement of a New York City supermarket. Almost two decades ago, a stranger gave him $280, which not only changed his life, but an entire community. Cabrera founded a non-profit in 2001, called MASA-MexEd, which tutors mainly Mexican and Mexican-American students in New York City. According to the Census, approximately 41 percent of all Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in New York City have dropped out of school. He wants to change that.
Read more here.

3. Teen cancer survivor creates video game and social network for patients
Five years ago, 12-year-old Steven Gonzalez, Jr. found himself battling a rare form of cancer that gave him only a two percent chance of survival. Today, he is a survivor of the deadly disease and credits video games for helping him get through the hardest part of his life.  He’s created a video game to provide that form of relief to others who are now going through similar pain and seclusion. He  recently spoke at a TED conference about the healing power of video games, and he’s working on a social network for gaming called “The Survivor Games,” geared towards 6th through 12th graders.
Read more here.

4. The Latino A-team to the rescue in Rock Hill, SC
Six police officers with roots in Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Brazil, who call themselves the Latino Action Team, stepped up to the plate when they saw the growing Hispanic population needed help. They canvas town and hold meetings to aid predominantly Hispanic Rock Hill neighborhoods. This year, they also started a mentoring program for Latino youth.
Read more here.

5. A veteran jumps in to help Hurricane Sandy victims
Marvin Avilez uses the skills he gained in the U.S. Marines, working 14 years in counterintelligence and interrogation, to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Team Rubicona non-profit that recruits veterans and matches their skill set with specific disasters, sent Avilez to help prepare for the storm which ultimately killed at least 100 people and has displaced thousands in the northeastern U.S.
Read more here.

Joe Leal (right) talking with a homeless man. (Courtesy The Vet Hunters Project)

Joe Leal (right) talking with a homeless man. (Courtesy The Vet Hunters Project)

6. A veteran risks all to get homes for the homeless
U.S. Army veteran Joe Leal was born in rural Harlingen, Texas, to a mother addicted to drugs and spent many of his childhood years homeless. In order to change his destiny, he joined the Army at 18. Nearly 20 years later, he still works 40 hours a week doing administrative work as the Army’s community liaison near Los Angeles, Calif., but it was early last year when he says he embarked on his life mission. He started a non-profit called The Vet Hunters Project where he spends all of his free time looking for homeless veterans and giving them homes. Since its inception, his organization has already housed 969 veterans around the country.
Read more here.

7. A former orphan founds organization to help Mexican homeless kids
Hilda Pacheco-Taylor, the oldest of seven children, was once an orphan herself in Baja, Mexico. Today, at nearly 50, her main concern is fundraising for the hundreds of orphans who still populate Baja. In 1994, she founded Corazón de Vida, a U.S.-based non-profit organization supporting 15 orphanages and 850 children in Baja, only an hour and a half from the California border. It aids in providing children, without a caretaker or a home, the basic necessities of shelter, food, clothing, education, and healthcare.
Read more here.

8. Military spouse of the year finalist creates site for Hispanic military wives
In 2007, Janet Sanchez, who was born and raised in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and now resides in Schertz, Texas, saw a specific need for Spanish-speaking U.S. military wives. So she created an informative Web site called Esposas Militares Hispanas to translate benefits information, tell them where to take English classes, and network.
Read more here.

9. Project Paz raises funds for the children of Juarez
Three and a half years ago, a group of about 20 professionals — from lawyers to artists — living in NYC, but originally from the Juarez/El Paso area, started meeting in coffee shops to discuss how they could make a difference in their hometown, widely known for its drug-related border violence which has killed nearly 7,000 people in the past six years and forced thousands of young people to leave school. Now a group that has grown to more than 30 members, Project Paz recently held its third annual fundraiser to help nearly 2,000 kids in Juarez. The money raised there and through the online auction, from art sold by approximately 70 prominent and up-and-coming artists, will go towards funding after-school programs to protect children ages 5 to 15 from the danger in the streets.
Read more here.

10. Dominican woman unites and changes communities through theater
Mino Lora is the founder of the People’s Theatre Project — a community-based non-profit based in New York City. The organization produces 10 theatrical events a year, but most importantly, it brings together different generations and ethnicities in the community through distinct programs, and strives to solve its problems through acting them out on stage.
Read more here.

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