Proyecto Pastoral executive director Raquel Roman with Dolores Mission Pastor, Father Ted, and associate pastor Father Brendan inside Dolores Mission with the cots set up for shelter residents. Photo courtesy Proyecto Pastoral.

It’s been six years since Proyecto Pastoral has held a public fundraising event, but the organization hopes to make up for lost time at its upcoming 35th Anniversary Gala.

“It’s a celebration of persistence,” said Proyecto Pastoral’s executive director Raquel Roman, about Friday’s event at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The gala will celebrate a community-led organization “built to empower the Boyle Heights community […] through grassroots projects in education, leadership, and service,” according to an announcement. Emceed by radio personality Argelia Atilano, the Gala will honor Daniel Weiss, Founder of Angeleno Group and former Proyecto Pastoral Board Member, and Cynthia Sanchez, Former Proyecto Pastoral Executive Director. 

Father Gregory Boyle. Photo by Angel Lizarraga

Father Gregory Boyle, a well-known community activist who was the pastor at Dolores Mission Church when Proyecto Pastoral started, will be a guest speaker. He will also give special recognition to the Founding Women of the organization. 

Roman, who became executive director last year after serving in various other capacities for nearly 14 years, said that some of those founding women are now in their 70s.  

“It was moms in the community that wanted something better for their own kids, for their neighbor’s kids. They planted the seeds 35 years ago, and nobody knew that they would grow into these programs that would continue to support the community,” Roman said.

Over three and a half decades, Proyecto Pastoral has grown to serve over 6,000 residents annually across nine different sites in Boyle Heights.

“I think it’s important to celebrate the work,” insisted Roman.

When Proyecto Pastoral was founded in 1986, the community surrounding Dolores Mission faced “pervasive poverty and gang violence, low educational attainment of children and youth, and limited economic and civic engagement opportunities for community members,” the organization’s statement reads. It adds:

Backed by their values of Dignity, Solidarity, Relationships, Justice, [and] Community Participation residents created programs that have continued to grow and evolve with the Boyle Heights Community. Programs include two Early Childhood Education Centers, providing a high-quality, pre-K curriculum for 100 children ages 18 months to 5 years; IMPACTO, a five-site after school academic enrichment program and sports programming serving 800 youth ages 5 to 18; the Guadalupe Homeless Project, a shelter program serving 60 men and senior-aged women nightly; Comunidad en Movimiento (Community in Action), for public safety and civic engagement. In partnership with 30+ other agencies, Proyecto Pastoral is the backbone organization for the Promesa Boyle Heights collaborative.

“Through Proyecto, there’s been lots of children that have been supported to excel in school,” Roman adds. “We’ve had multiple generations that have come through our programs, so it’s important to celebrate the victories.”

Besides a celebration of achievement, Friday’s gala is an important fundraiser for Proyecto Pastoral.

“It’s an opportunity for us to [raise] unrestricted funding for our programming, to support our infrastructure,” Roman said. “In order to fully support all of our programs, we have to have the right staff. I’m really big on hiring from the community.”

While tickets for the gala may not be accessible to everyone in the community, Roman said that the organization is providing access to residents who cannot afford it.

“I’s important to not only celebrate, but also to share with the community. To say, hey, we’re still here and we’re doing really important work.”

Proyecto Pastoral’s women’s shelter. Photo courtesy of Raquel Roman.

Roman, who formerly ran Proyecto’s homeless shelters, said that there is still a big need for the organization’s work in Boyle Heights and the surrounding community.

“One day, I hope to see that homelessness is no longer a crisis, and that folks have homes,” she said. “Our youth still need the support, especially after this pandemic, we see a high increase of students not returning to school. So these programs continue to be relevant.”

“There are still needs. We still need to increase the rates of graduation for students, there’s a long way to go to have an equitable playing field for all of us, starting with our kids.”

The Proyecto Pastoral 35th Anniversary Gala will be held Friday, April 1 at 6 pm at the Music Center, 135 N Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets and information go here.

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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