As a 16-year-old high school junior living in one of Long Beach’s toughest neighborhoods, Jose Joaquin made a decision that would impact the next 26 years of his life — he joined the YMCA.
You can still find him there today, giving back.
“Most of our staff are program alumni,” Joaquin said. “The experiences and bonds you gain here shape your life and make you want to come back to give back.”
Growing up, Joaquin loved music, art and painting. He was a “hip-hop head” and always admired graffiti art. He eventually made a career from his passions by becoming a tour manager for several musicians, including Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Lauryn Hill, traveling the world nearly half the year.
Between his busy travels, he spends as much time as possible with youth at the YMCA, where he’s now a board member and his daughter is a youth leader.
Recently, Edison International volunteers visited the Long Beach YMCA Youth Institute, a year-round program that uses technology to promote development and career readiness of low-income, culturally diverse middle and high school youth. The volunteers joined Joaquin to paint a mural, mentor youth and fill 200 backpacks with school supplies.
“As a next-generation energy company, we’re committed to building a better tomorrow,” said Edison International President and CEO Pedro Pizarro, who presented a $15,000 grant to the organization. “This program is changing lives for the better, and we’re excited to help youth make positive contributions in our communities.”
Edison International has supported the youth institute from its start — going on 17 years. Last year, it provided more than 1,500 grants to nonprofit organizations, including 59 within Long Beach — about 90 percent of which helped underserved communities.
Joaquin led the volunteers in painting alongside the youth institute participants, who created the design — a mountain camping scene in an Adobe Photoshop frame. During the first week of the summer session, the youth go on a wilderness retreat where many experience a forest setting for the first time and consider it a pivotal moment in their lives.
The remainder of the program teaches science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) by working with digital media software to create films, digital music, 3D animation, 3D printing and digital design.
Youth institute participants have a 97 percent high school graduation rate while only 71 percent of Long Beach youth with similar demographics do so. About 86 percent of alumni enroll in higher education, compared to 43 percent of their Long Beach peers.
“We’re in the highest crime rate area in Long Beach and 56 percent of youth live in poverty,” Joaquin said. “The youth institute is a safe haven for them where they don’t have to worry, be afraid or try to impress others.”