The city of Perris is a fast-growing desert community about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. It offered Jose Ramos the sort of safety and security he had longed for growing up in South Los Angeles.
Once he settled in the community with his wife, Jackie, and three children, however, Ramos ’11 (M.P.A., Public Administration) still felt a void.
“There wasn’t a lot being offered in the city for kids,” he said.
In just a couple of years, Ramos — who credits his CSUN education for giving him the tools to accelerate the process — changed that situation for children in Perris by bringing a Boys & Girls Club to the city. Along with two fellow Matadors, he’s helping ensure that kids don’t just have something to do, but that they have real purpose.
The work has been so gratifying that it brings Ramos to tears talking about it.
“I had a kid when I was 19, so I think some of the challenges for me were not to let myself down and not let my kids down,” Ramos said. “Going to school and creating a career for myself, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a good life. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of being together with Jackie. Doing this type of work is just another example of how I can never give up. I’m just a hard worker, and on top of that I wake up at 4 in the morning, go to work — then in my spare time, I can put in work to make my community better.”
It’s quite a process to land a Boys & Girls Club charter. There are obvious financial hurdles to overcome, but the procedural hurdles can be some of the most daunting. There are mountains of applications to go through in seeking nonprofit status. Then there’s garnering the support of community leaders.
Ramos, who works for the city of Los Angeles in its Department of Human Resources, said the combination of his CSUN education and job experience gave him a leg up to overcome the procedural hurdles because he understood how to cut through red tape.
“The master’s in public administration coupled with the work experience I’ve had allowed me to move through a process of actually starting a nonprofit,” Ramos said. “I filed all the paperwork, investigated [the necessary steps] and subsequent to that, followed up with the IRS to see what it takes to get this done and on a fast track.”
His fellow Matadors — Denise Villamil ’09 (Chicana/o Studies), M.P.A. ’12 (Public Administration) and Brady McCarron ’14 (M.P.A., Public Administration) — with Ramos make up half of the Boys & Girls Club of Perris’ board of directors.
Ramos called on Villamil, his sister-in-law, to serve as a board member because of her work with at-risk youth. She also works for the city of Los Angeles, overseeing gang-prevention and gang-intervention programs. Though she lives in LA — more than an hour’s drive from Perris — she agreed to help the fledgling Boys & Girls Club.
“I’m able to channel my passions working with youth by being a board member,” Villamil said. “[Coming] from my experience working in a big city with more resources than a smaller city like Perris, there was pretty much nothing out there. The need was crucial.”
The other piece of the Matador puzzle arrived by chance. Ramos met McCarron, who is politically active in Perris as chairman of the city’s planning commission, at an event and asked him if he would like to get involved.
“I was gung-ho,” McCarron said about joining the group. “We knew what the mission was, but instantly when I found out we were Northridge graduates, the bond became stronger. The mission became more predominant. If there was any hurdle in our way, the three of us felt unstoppable.”
The trio of CSUN graduates has helped fuel constant growth for the Boys & Girls Club of Perris.
The club opened its doors in May 2014, operating out of two classrooms at the original Perris High School campus. Within a year, the Boys & Girls Club outgrew the space and moved to a larger facility that sits on the same campus as Perris City Hall. There are three large rooms — one for staff, one set up for activities and one set up like a classroom for kids to engage in fun learning activities. There’s also a wellness program, so kids can receive assistance with emotional issues. There are currently 550 enrolled club members. Ramos estimated that 40 kids are at the club every day. In addition to the resources available, they also receive a hot meal. Jackie, who deserves much of the credit for making this all happen, is also a board member and chief executive officer of the club.
The Matadors hope that more kids use the club’s services and grow from them, and that the community continues to support it through funding and volunteering. Jose Ramos sees the club as a community investment that could pay off through kids’ individual success, which reflects positively on the city as a whole.
“The future is bright for the Boys & Girls Club of Perris,” Ramos said. “Every day we’re not only meeting the needs of members coming to the clubhouse, but we’re bettering the community of Perris.”