Countywide : Leadership Program Boasts 67 Graduates

Sixty-seven students graduated Tuesday from a yearlong leadership development program sponsored by the Orange County chapter of a Latino community group.

The program’s sponsor, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, is a nonprofit organization that promotes and protects civil rights of Latinos at work, school and in political arenas.

This year’s graduates include people from throughout the county who are involved in projects they created to improve their neighborhoods.

They include Rose Espinoza, a volunteer who began a free, after-school tutoring program in her garage three years ago for children in her La Habra neighborhood. Espinoza, who is a La Habra City Council candidate, recently was recognized by President Clinton, who presented her with the Presidential Volunteer Action Award.


Also graduating were Patricia Lopez, who was honored this year by the Orange County Human Relations Commission for her efforts in finding housing for the poor, and Benny Hernandez, who is running for the Anaheim City School District board.

“These are examples of Latino leadership wanting to be part of the solution, wanting to be at the table to share the responsibility in providing solutions to quality of life issues,” said John Palacio, the program’s director.

Alumni created MALDEF’s Hispanic Education Endowment Fund, which has raised about $140,000 for scholarships for Latino students.

About 60 alumni of the 4-year-old program have become involved in local and state government agencies, including school boards and city councils, or have served on boards of well-known groups such as United Way, Palacio said.


“There isn’t a week that goes by that one of the program’s graduates or participants is not recognized or honored for their contributions to Orange County,” Palacio said. “They’re either being honored or being solicited for their advice on ways to improve the quality of life in Orange County.”

He said the program focuses on training people to become community leaders and teaching them how local government and private nonprofit agencies work.

Students are being accepted for next year’s class, which begins in October. For applications, call Palacio at (714) 543-7191.