Costa Mesa’s Save Our Youth first executive director dies in traffic accident
Oscar Santoyo never seemed to have a bad day while he was working at Costa Mesa’s Save Our Youth, a nonprofit that works to provide a safe and welcoming space for the city’s teens.
That’s according to Jose Sanchez, who said he himself was at the center nearly every day when he was still part of the program.
Sanchez, now 38, said he got roped into participating in the program during his freshman year at Estancia High School. At the time, he’d been part of a soccer team that practiced regularly at Rea Elementary. He and the rest of the team would always pass through the Save Our Youth — also known as SOY — center on their way back.
“Every time I would go there, he was like, ‘Hey, you’re always here. Might as well join SOY.’ I was trying to be the cool kid and like, ‘Nah, I don’t need to join this place.’ He was always joking with us and eventually, I was like, ‘I guess he’s right. I’m always here,’ so I ended up joining the center ... that’s how I knew Oscar,” said Sanchez.
“He was really easy to talk to and get along with,” Sanchez continued. “He was always asking about how he can engage with you and was proactive in asking about your hobbies, what you do and would be joking with you. He’d never be like, ‘Hi, I’m Oscar. This is what I think you should do,’” Sanchez said. “He was just trying to engage with you and what you were interested in.”
That’s why it hurt to hear the news that Santoyo died last weekend.
The Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported on Tuesday that police said Santoyo died of injuries he sustained Sunday night after rear-ending a Ford Escape, which caused Santoyo’s motorcycle to topple over and slide along the roadway. Santoyo is believed to have not been wearing a helmet at the time of the accident and died by blunt trauma by ejection from a motor vehicle.
Santoyo relocated to Texas in recent years, but came from Costa Mesa and was the first executive director of the Save Our Youth organization in its infancy. The organization began in 1992 in response to what was the city’s first drive-by shooting and fears of gang activity in westside Costa Mesa, but found its footing in 1993.
At the time, Jean Forbath, one of the co-founders of the organization, said that SOY was principally run by volunteer efforts, but it was growing too quickly to go on without a full-time paid staff team.
“He was our first employee,” said Forbath, adding that she knew him from when Santoyo was in class with her own son at Estancia. “I was part of the interviewing committee for Oscar and he impressed us greatly with his concern for kids and his ability to really work with them. They responded to him very well.”
“He was a local Costa Mesa person. He went to all the local schools, so he had a shared background with all the kids,” said Forbath.
Forbath said Santoyo didn’t have much in the way of experience, but was glad that they hired him in spite of it. In some ways, Forbath felt Santoyo grew with the organization as much as it grew with him.
“It’s a very important position and was being in charge of this new organization that’s trying to develop something special for Costa Mesa’s youth,” said Forbath. “We were careful in interviewing him and making sure he was the right person and we were glad we made the right decision because he did a great job for the beginnings of a totally new organization.”
Mary Cappellini, the organization’s current executive president, described Santoyo as a force within the organization and said he likely changed a lot of lives in Costa Mesa, including Sanchez’s.
“He was really great working with all of the schools and the students just really loved him and he had a huge heart and a big smile,” said Cappellini, adding that Santoyo stayed for about 10 years before moving onto a position with the Boys and Girls Club before eventually moving onto the Boy Scouts of America in Santa Ana.
His Facebook page, which has since been turned into a memorial, is laden with comments from friends and those mentored by him.
Sanchez described Santoyo as never demanding and a good listener. He called Santoyo “Big Osc” and remembers a time when Santoyo promised that if Sanchez and other students got a high enough grade point average, they’d be able to mess with Santoyo’s hair — facial and actual hair, included.
“It was an awesome experience as a kid,” said Sanchez, laughing.
“We know Oscar. He was always very friendly, but he had to be stern when he had to, but it was never in a demeaning way. He was the leader there and so as a kid, any chance you get to mess with the leader is a good chance, right? He followed through on his word. We threw him in a chair and we shaved him off,” Sanchez said.
“That’s the kind of guy he was. He would do what he could to get the kids engaged and involved and to me, that was his passion there at SOY,” said Sanchez.
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