Volunteer learns to become community organizer

As part of our "Season's Givings" series, Special Correspondent Kitty Felde visits the holiday party at LA Voice, which provides training for community organizers.

Kitty Felde: I'm Kitty Felde with Season's Givings.

[Sound of party]

In an old Baptist church near MacArthur Park, it's the Christmas party for LA Voice. LA Voice provides training for community organizers. What's a community organizer?

Yanira Rivas: For me, it just means: How do we get everyday residents to be active in their community, to be part of the decision-making process, and most importantly, how can they change their communities?

Felde: Yanira Rivas is one of four paid staffers with LA Voice. The group has trained nearly 500 volunteers to work on issues that matter to them. For 67-year-old Humberto Sanchez, that meant getting rid of a pair of drug houses on his street. Yanira Rivas helped Sanchez organize a meeting at his house.

Rivas: He got the entire neighborhood – I think like 60-80 of his neighbors who came to his house and he organized all of them. And any issue we work around, he doesn't say no.

Felde: With the city's help, Sanchez got the drug houses closed down, the cracked sidewalks replaced, speed bumps installed, and bright street lights put in. Now he's lobbying the city to repave his street.

Humberto Sanchez: When we apply for fix the street, I get all the block signatures and I do myself. When I think something, I don't looking for somebody to do. I do myself.

Felde: Yanira Rivas says Sanchez is known as "the lion" of LA Voice organizers.

Rivas: We were trying to get a health initiative going on, and we needed signatures, and he would go out on a Sunday family dinner, and he'll be out in the restaurant asking people to sign the petition.

Felde: Sanchez is modest about his achievements.

Sanchez: Well, I help, but they help us. You now, they show us how, when, where, where we can go to talk to whom; see that way we learn so many things.

Felde: Sanchez heard about LA Voice at church. Yanira Rivas says LA Voice works out of 25 different faith communities... Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

Rivas: A lot of the community residents feel powerless, and unfortunately a lot of them have lost what little hope they had, and the one place in those communities where you still have faith, you still have hope for something better – it's in the religious congregations.

Felde: Humberto Sanchez is a painter, a church volunteer, a father, and a grandfather. And he volunteers with LA Voice about 12 hours a month. How does he find the time?

Sanchez (laughing): I don't know. But I found it. I like it. I want to do. I feel do it.

Felde: Yanira Rivas says the goal is to train leaders who will then train others.

What's next for Humberto Sanchez? Maybe a run for City Council?

Sanchez (laughing): No, no, no, that's too much. That's too much!

Felde: You can find out more about LA Voice at LAVoicePico.org.