“John was an encyclopedia of knowledge when it came to working with youth. He taught me how to deal with kids’ emotions and feelings, and how to be a genuine friend and mentor to them while maintaining their respect and trust.”
TELACU Youth Services Volunteer for nearly 30 years
“TELACU Youth Services helped me succeed in school in ways I never thought I could, and become a productive member of my community.”
2007-2008 TELACU Youth Services Student
“Parents like me who had children in John’s program fully understood that we were to be ‘involved’ alongside them. John made it clear that it was our responsibility to encourage them every step of the way and to celebrate their achievements with them.”
Mother of 2007-2008 TELACU Youth Services student
“Everything we did in TELACU Youth Services helped us gain a new sense of freedom and responsibility. We were treated with respect and learned the benefits of making the right choices.”
TELACU Youth Services Alumna
TELACU Youth Services Director Leaves Generations of East LA Teens with Legacy of Empowerment
Following is TELACU Education Foundation Founder & Chairman David C. Lizárraga’s tribute to G. John Gonzalez (1933–2008), honoring his lifetime of selfless service to the youth and families of our community.
John was a man who used all of the resources available to him to make a difference. A person who gave his all for the children and families of the East Los Angeles community he loved.
He knew that the gang lifestyle all too often ensnared so many young people in our community. A lifestyle that brought with it destruction and defeat. But he committed himself to confronting it and to combating it—not with violence, but with a deep love for people, unwavering service to the community, and the minibike.
Evidence of John’s love and service was visible throughout our community, whether it was his kids helping senior citizens, gathering food for those in need, scrubbing graffiti off walls, or cleaning up abandoned lots.
John was a leader, and he produced and shaped young leaders, helping them build confidence and hope for the future. Beginning one of the original chapters of NYPUM in 1969, he used the minibike as a partial reward for staying in school and providing service to others, motivating students to gain control of their lives.
John invested nearly 50 years of his life working with young people and their families—from Cleland House and Teen Post to Casa Maravilla and TELACU. He used his God-given skills and commitment to impact the lives of thousands of people. And the one thing he disliked most was being recognized for doing what he loved to do. His trophies were the lives of the young people he touched.
“In addition to how to take apart and re-assemble a minibike, John taught me that no youth program can succeed without a solid cornerstone of family participation,” said Patricia Ureña, Director and Founder of the NYPUM chapter in El Centro California “John’s program was the ultimate model upon which I based my own, and I believe every youth program in this nation can learn from how he empowered not only these kids, but also their entire families.”
With a strong abiding faith in God, John led the youth and their families to have church wherever they were—mostly out on the trails, in the deserts and mountains, in the wide open spaces, from Lake Tahoe to Baja California—as well as in their “warehouse” at TELACU. He would gather his flock, and they would come together as a family cooking their meals, facing their challenges, learning about life and leadership, and setting and achieving high goals for themselves.
Several of John’s students went on to become NYPUM staff members themselves. One alum, Jose Esqueda, graduated from TELACU Youth Services in 1984, earned a Bachelors degree in Social Work, and has been running his own NYPUM chapter in South Central Los Angeles for nearly 15 years. Jose says, “John impressed upon me a commitment to providing everyone—regardless of their family background or social class—with the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves, their families, and our community. He’s the reason for who I am and where I am today.”
Another TELACU Youth Services alum, Cecilia Hernandez, graduated from TELACU Youth Services 11 years ago and went on to earn a Bachelors degree in Youth Program Management and is currently a certified NYPUM Track Safety Supervisor. “By his example and influence, John proved again and again that every single person has the power and strength to make a difference in their own life and in their community,” says Cecilia.
Jose and Cecilia are joined by thousands of individuals, who today live by the values John instilled in them—whether they are parents of their own families or professionals in fields like engineering, business and education. They are living legacies of John’s example of responsible, committed leadership that brings about true community renewal.