Rodrigo Vazquez went from spending time behind bars to attending UC Berkeley. And as he worked towards his degree, which he recently earned, he played an active role in a support group for other formerly incarcerated students.
Known to many as “Froggy,” Vazquez has worked as a program manager at the Pico Youth and Family Center in Santa Monica, instilling in youngsters the lessons he’s learned along his atypical journey.
Vazquez is one of four honorees scheduled to be recognized at the Santa Monica nonprofit’s annual banquet, which will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Le Meridien Delfina hotel, 530 Pico Blvd.
The 9th annual Hope and Unity Awards Gala is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the PYFC, which provides a wide variety of programs and resources for underserved youths in the area.
The event comes at a turning point for Oscar de la Torre’s organization, which recently received funding from the City of Santa Monica after having its public monies pulled last year. It’s fitting, then, that the theme of this year’s banquet is resilience.
“With everything that we have gone through as an organization,” de la Torre said, “the fact that we’re still vibrant and serving the youth of our community is a testament to our resilience as the resilience we inculcate in our youth.”
The PYFC is working towards raising $50,000 to match the City’s cash donation, and de la Torre said he hopes to cover the remaining $7,000 gap through this year’s gala.
He added that the importance of the center is underscored by the gun violence, police clashes and antagonistic rhetoric taking place across the country.
“The PYFC is a solution to many of those problems,” de la Torre said. “We know that our model of providing direct services and advocacy has transformed the way our city approaches youth development. The impact of that is that we have less homicide and less suicide, and we have more young people graduating from high school and going to college.”
It’s a path embodied by Vazquez, who has used his platform to encourage Berkeley leaders to remove requests for criminal history from job applications. Vazquez will receive the Youth Leaders and Scholars Award from the PYFC.
Francisco Juarez will receive the Private Joe Gandara Award, which is named for a Medal of Honor recipient who was born in Santa Monica. Juarez, a longtime local resident and a Vietnam War veteran, has supported youths throughout his life. The community activist is a former chair of the PYFC.
“He’s very involved in supporting our veterans, and we appreciate his lifelong commitment to public service,” de la Torre said.
The Progressive Champion Award will go to UndocuMedia, a team of immigrant rights advocates. The group, de la Torre said, was founded by undocumented immigrants and provides “a platform for immigrants in our country to express themselves and build community.”
Santa Monica-based automotive sales company TrueCar will be honored with the Digital Dream Award. TrueCar has reached out to area nonprofits and is helping to upgrade the PYFC facilities through community service work.
“They embody the concept of social responsibility,” de la Torre said.
For more information, visit www.picoyouth.org.