Profile/Netherby/28″/cw1st/mark2nd Snapshot: Irene Tovar Position: Executive Director, Latin American Civic Association Born: Los Angeles, 1939 Education: Bachelor’s degree, Cal State Northridge Personal: Single, no children Most Admired person: Cesar Chavez for his commitment to a cause. By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter As a young teaching student at Cal State Northridge in the early ’60s, Irene Tovar was appalled at the high drop-out rate among Latinos. So she joined other students and teachers in doing something about it. Today, the Latin American Civic Association runs the biggest Head Start program in the Valley with 28 sites serving 1,400 children aged 3 to 5. The organization also runs two affordable housing programs and is planning a third in North Hills that will feature a social service center for area youngsters. Tovar left LACA in the ’70s to, among other things, act as an advisor to former Gov. Jerry Brown on the appointment of Latinos to state boards and commissions. She returned to LACA in 1993 as executive director, and has since instituted literacy training for low-income parents of Head Start students and is working to establish a youth mentor program in which she hopes to involve businesses. Question: Who are your clients, and what does LACA try to do for them? Answer: A lot of our clients are Latinos, and they’re working poor. That means that their needs are multiple from child care, affordable housing, health, recreation, youth services, family counseling, English as a second language, educational issues all those are very crucial issues that LACA attempts to in one way or the other serve. Basically what we’re trying to do is improve the quality of life of the Latino community in the San Fernando Valley. Q: What do you try to accomplish through Head Start? A: The issue of Head Start is, you’re trying to stabilize the environment of the child so the child can be prepared to start elementary school and succeed in his education. Now more than ever it’s important because the number of children who are poor have increased. Therefore Head Start becomes even more relevant in meeting the needs of poor children who have limited resources, and their parents don’t have the means to take them to a child care. Q: You’re developing a mentor program for students. How will it work? A: What we’re talking about is getting young people to come (to LACA) to see how a non-profit works and to afford them the opportunity to experience what the actual world of work is within the interests they have. They will receive credit. We in turn will provide them the experience. If we find that this young man or woman has the kind of skills that we want, we may eventually hire that person. One of the things I’ve been trying to move in the hearts of men and women, especially in the private sector, is, why not at least take one young person every summer and employ them and teach them what it is to work in the world of work? And we would be happy to be that linkage. Q: You’ve proposed a literacy training group for parents of your Head Start students. Why is it important? A: Head Start is an anti-poverty program and our objective is to upgrade the skills of the parents so they can break the cycle of poverty. So obviously, education and developing skills is one of those important aspects of it. Most of our parents do not have a high school education. And most of our parents are very limited in their ability to read and write. And that’s one of the reasons they fall into poverty. Our objective is to upgrade their skills so they can be more marketable. Q: You’re planning an affordable housing project in North Hills. What does the project entail, and how will it be funded? A: We will have a building that will be built for us to provide social services. In it we will have child care with an emphasis on latchkey programs. We want to be developing an environment where the neighborhood feels comfortable coming to us. That’s part of upgrading the standard of education and ability of the neighborhood. (For the housing component of the project) we’ve partnered with a for-profit developer who will build (single-family) homes that will be sold to low-income families. HUD (the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) comes in and does part of the financing and helps the people who are interested in becoming first-time homeowners. Q: Your old building in San Fernando was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake. What came out of that for LACA? A: There’s a saying in Spanish which means “Out of something bad, something good can come.” And what’s happened is, we were able to move from our old dilapidated building to this new building. Our objective now is to purchase a permanent building for LACA and our goal is to see how we can convince the private sector, at least in the summer, to provide one young person a job experience. Q: What’s next for your organization? A: A long time ago LACA had a lot of youth programs. But the funding became limited. So we’re trying to go back and see how we can focus with young people. The next challenge is, how do we work with young people so they don’t have antisocial behavior? Part of that has got to be with the cooperation of the business world. Q: What can the business community do? A: Look at the neighborhoods. They’re stripped out of opportunity for young people. We need to see how we can convince the private sector to provide one young person a job experience. To direct their energies somewhere else. Q: LACA recently organized a symposium on secession. What’s your view on secession and its impact on Latinos? A: We have approached CSUN and asked them to do an analysis of the impact of secession to low-income families. You know, what does that mean in terms of taxes, what does that mean in terms of job opportunities, what does that mean in terms of political empowerment to the Latino community. What we really are doing right now is studying the implications. The initial reports we’re getting are not very favorable to the poor and to minorities. But we haven’t taken a formal position. We’re promoting the idea that we should start really actively analyzing it. Q: As a former state official, how would you grade local hiring and pay for Latinos? A: We’ve improved but we have a long, long way to go. In both realms, public and private, the representation is not the best. If you find them, you find them in the lower entry-level jobs, the lowest paying jobs. So what we’re trying to do is ensure businesses that when they hire men and women that can perform the jobs, the clients will come to those businesses because they know that they cared enough to find someone who communicated with them. I must say, I have found some companies that have been very wise to note that if they hire Latinos, they’ll have more Latino clients. And the Latino community are purchasers.