La Causa’s journalism group redefines East LA youth

La Identidad is a journalist group of young adults who attend La Causa YouthBuild. La Identidad was founded April of 2013 by Academic Counselor Omar Jimenez and 8 bright individuals. It began as a journalism class, which later developed into a team of writers. We have both been a part of this group since its beginning. We write articles on things of our own personal interests or on topics that have impact on our lives. After some debate and voting, no name really expressed who we were. So, that is how we came up with the name, La Identidad, or, The Identity. We chose this name because the name would allow us to show our identity and what makes each of us unique. We all have different experiences and perspectives of each other, our surrounding communities, and ourselves. It’s your differences that matter and make up who you are, not your similarities.

La Identidad’s focus is to publish our opinions and our experiences as members of the East Los Angeles community. We construct articles on struggles and barriers we go through growing up in our communities, which create our identity. We also highlight the great work of the different programs and individualistic’ work that is created in the classroom and in our communities.

This journalism group is important because as we get to publish and share articles we grow as individuals. Our writing, communication, and social skills are something we work on and develop. We also believe it is important for the reader to be informed about the culture and the people in their surroundings. Being students of East Los Angeles often comes with a stigma; our mission is to redefine our identity as youth of our community by proclaiming who we really are.

Our latest project consisted of each member of La Identidad writing an autobiography in order to justify our identity through the self and to reflect on the different things that have impacted us and continue to impact us as young adults and as students of La Causa YouthBuild.

La Causa Youthbuild is a non-profit organization that operates out of the TELACU building on the corner of Goodrich and Olympic in East Los Angeles. The mission of this organization is to recruit youth that have been pushed out, have dropped out, or have aged out of traditional school. These young adults are not challenged, by these school systems, to exhibit their highest potential and often times are belittled by educators. These educators are not actively engaging with their students, as they should. Teachers show a lack of interest to personally connect with the student; therefore, the acquisition of educational knowledge is diminished. La Causa is here to provide resources, vocational training, leadership and community service opportunities, and to entice students to discover their true potential. They offer their full support and immense teaching abilities, working with the age group of 16-24 that truly wants to reconnect with their education. This program drives each student to realize the importance of themselves as members of society.

La Causa is made up of different components. Fabian Lijtmaer is Director of Wellness and Green Projects and oversees La Causa’s community service program named Paloma. Lijtmaer says, “Paloma is an essential part of the leadership component here at La Causa; we build leaders through initiatives to transform the community through healthy food and wellness.” Current projects of Paloma are converting two corner stores to provide healthier food access to the community, feeding homeless, doing garden work, and beautifying elementary schools. Jhoanna Ramirez, a current Paloma student mentioned, ”We are converting corner stores, and making them greenhouses for better food resources.” This means providing healthy fruits and vegetables for purchase. Felisha Garcia, another Paloma member, shared what she has obtained from being a part of Paloma: “I am becoming a leader by interacting with my community, and helping those in need.” Paloma’s mission is to reach out to the community and have an impact on how community members see food and know how to eat healthy. Through this process, students can develop leadership, understand how to communicate with others through group projects, and learn leadership responsibility by completing projects within a certain amount of time. The goal is to influence the community to be healthier and promote service.

La Causa is partnered with a high school diploma program known as YouthBuild Charter School of California. This program is different from traditional high school because teachers and students learn from one another. It is more engaging, meaning there is more of an individual connection. Students get to bring their experiences and apply them to class. Every student is involved and there is also more of a focus on the student from a collective point of view, meaning that all students come together as one.

In speaking with lead teacher David Flores he stated that what they teach is “culturally relevant.” He says, “We (teachers) do not teach by the book.” We do not use textbooks, we learn from teacher-composed lessons. Teacher’s grade critical thinking through project based assessments known as APT’s (Authentic Performance Tasks). An APT is given to a student after every unit, or end of each month. It is given to measure students’ understanding of the month long lesson.

As a program La Causa emphasizes attendance, since they believe many students end up out of traditional schools because of poor attendance. The teaching style La Causa teachers use is active listening and active learning. As Flores mentioned, “Teachers respect student knowledge and use student experiences in class, resulting in both teachers and students learning from each other.” All of this is happening in an active learning environment. In contrast, traditional school teachers teach with the perspective that they know everything and the student knows nothing.

Students are graded on three different criteria. First, is the academic part, meaning it is focused on research and best ways to gather information. Student academics are graded based on how students analyze, think critically and problem solve. Secondly, students are evaluated on post secondary readiness and leadership development. These criteria grades students on developing their studying skills, such as how they predict, analyze, actively read and speak in public. Lastly, is the students understanding of social justice. This focuses on a student’s social justice consciousness and helps each student understand terms such as oppression, awareness on justice and community involvement.

The way student’s benefit from this approach to education is, as Flores mentions, “They leave La Causa realizing that they are not 100% at fault for what happened to them in traditional school.” They also leave realizing that they are intelligent and that there are different types of intelligence, such as critical thinking, written intelligence, and verbal intelligence.

La Causa YouthBuild offers a vocational component known as the construction program. This component is a nine-month process of leadership and developing new skills. The members who are eligible to join the construction program are required to be between the ages of 16-24 and in pursuit of a high school diploma. This construction program teaches members residential construction, and trains members to receive OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act), CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation certification) & first aid certification.

Residential construction teaches members how to frame materials, meaning that these individuals learn to construct wood frames. This subject helps members get in the construction industry by teaching them basics that they can carry on if looking for a career involving construction. As Ben Garcia, Construction Manager, mentions, “I will not make you a plumber but I will teach you the basics to fix piping.”

The American Red Cross leads the CPR first aid session, a process that teaches members the fundamentals of CPR. The OSHA subject teaches members about safety around their work environment. In this part of the program individuals become safety certified by meeting training and industry safety experience requirements.

Overall, the construction program can help a member with a future career because they teach the basic construction fundamentals and employee readiness. This program is funded with the Department of Labor and is partnered with Great Alternative. Great Alternative focuses on solar projects like solar panels and anything having to do with solar energy. Manual housing is another partner, which is an organization that focuses on fixing and helping low-income homes.

After completing the nine-month process members receive an education award of $1,468 after completion of 450 service hours. Construction member Jaime Aguilar shared how he planned to use his education award, saying, “I plan to spend it on a laptop for college, because I am sure it will come in hand.” This reward can benefit those members who are pursuing post secondary education and are financially struggling.

Executive Director Sonia Sanchez Garcia shared that some of her most memorable experiences at La Causa are seeing the pride in the eyes of those who cross the stage in July to get their high school diploma. “‘This is why we do what we do,'” she says.

“Every student is different and every student comes with different goals.  The only growth and development I hope to see in our students is what they set for themselves.  I already know what they are capable of doing and becoming.  I wait for them to come to that same realization, which they do in their own time.”

From left, Mario Mora, Omar Jimenez, Steve Jimenez

From left, Mario Mora, Omar Jimenez, Steve Jimenez

La Identidad has the pleasure to be partnered with the great people that make up La Gente. This is the first of what we would like to be many contributions made to this publication. We hope to continue as contributors to La Gente in order to share our identity as writers, youth of East Los Angeles, and students of La Causa YouthBuild. A big thank you to Editor in Chief of La Gente, Michael Reyes, to Web Design Editor, Michelle Salinas, and to all the Gentistas for the support and this opportunity.

Written by Mario Mora and Steve Jimenez, students from La Identidad and La Causa YouthBuild


Raymond Ortega, 17, at the finish line of the ''Drive for Life" that was inspired by his Aplastic Anemia.

Student-led benefit inspired by classmate’s illness

Raymond Ortega, 17, at the finish line of the ”Drive 4 Life.” 


LA CAUSA students gathered Monday Nov. 11th despite a day off from classes for a fellow classmate who suffers from Aplastic Anemia, which is a blood cell deficiency due to a failure in bone marrow development.

“Ive been fighting it for about four years,” Raymond Ortega said.  “At the beginning it was really bad…I would be in the hospital, in and out…at least four to eight months at a time for just having a fever.”


Students welcome participants, and check donating eligibility.

Students welcome participants, and check donating eligibility.


After being made aware of their classmate’s condition, the students organized a bone marrow match drive, held Monday, outside the facility where they typically have classes. With special help from Delete Blood Cancer and El Tepeyac Cafe, the students organized an event for the community to participate in.


Students, staff, collecting monetary donations and registering participants.

Students, staff, collecting monetary donations and registering participants.


With such a condition, Ortega has had academic and social difficulties. “I didn’t really go to school,” he said. Further, Ortega shared that many wouldn’t talk to him after he opened up about his condition. However, he says that over time he’s found a sense of confidence in being able to share his story, especially at LA CAUSA.

Originally, one of Ortega’s teachers, knowing of his condition, asked Ortega if a drive could be held in his honor. After Ortega shared his story with his classmates– a lot of whom did not know him– they began organizing.


Students at the "swabbing" table, assisting participants.

Students at the “swabbing” table, assisting participants.


“Honestly, it was a really quick process,” Campos said, LA CAUSA student since October and lead organizer of the drive. She was chosen after peers heard her communicating on the phone; they were fascinated by her communication skills. Campos called the donors and organized other logistics of the drive.

“A lot of people donated; I was really surprised,” said Campos. “I’m really proud of everybody.”

With over 50 donations and a huge support from fellow classmates, Ortega says, “It feels good (to have) people that support me and other people that have the same thing that I do.”


*Editor’s note: La Gente wishes all the best to Raymond and his family.

LA CAUSA: Causing Students to Get Involved

LA CAUSA students visiting UCLA through the UCLA Green Site partnership. Photo Courtesy of LA CAUSA.

Little Frankie wrote his first essay at age 16. He was so proud, “Can I print it out? I want to show my mom.”

After being pushed out of the LAUSD public school system, Little Frankie ended up at Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice, and Action (LA CAUSA), an alternative charter high school in East Los Angeles, to not only finish his high school diploma, but to be introduced to the possibility of going to college.

LA CAUSA from its origins has implemented a different environment and curriculum that is relevant and beneficial to the community. As stated in their mission statement, LA CAUSA “engages historically disenfranchised young people and their families from East Los Angeles to take action against the injustices that impact low-income communities of color.”

Alejandro Covarrubias, now a professor in the UCLA César E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies, was the first executive director of LA CAUSA. “LA CAUSA was more than just a school, I know right now it’s running primarily as a school, but it has always be seen as a creative center that is interested in developing local leadership so then those young people can become active members of actions for change in their own community,” he said.

The culturally relevant curriculum has been essential to create active members of change. The curriculum includes topics such as the prison industrial complex and oppressive relations of power. As professor Covarrubias states, “Education is ultimately about getting people to understand their reality so they can contribute positively to their reality.”

Ely Flores, a 2005 graduate of LA CAUSA, agrees. After facing 3 years of prison and waiting for the arrival of his baby, he came to LA CAUSA and graduated. He now works full time bringing solar and renewal energy to low income communities with GRID Alternative. He has also started his own non-profit organization, Leadership through Empowerment, Action, and Dialogue (LEAD), where he educates youth about public policy.

LA CAUSA takes advantage of its close-knit environment. The current executive director Robert Zardeneta states, “We actively went out and recruited these students to become reengaged in their education. We are a small enough school that we can do that.”

Currently, LA CAUSA has 147 students enrolled. But will it get bigger and replicate problems such as over crowdedness?

“Internally, we have battled with the question of ‘when are we getting too big?’ So now I think that from where we are is as big as we should get before we break off into other satellite programs,” said Zardeneta. He added that they plan on creating programs in Boyle Heights and other parts of East LA because “every community needs a LA CAUSA”

LA CAUSA’s focus has shifted to getting students exposed to college with the goal for them to apply to college. To do this, LA CAUSA has partnered up with local colleges and universities such as UCLA, LA Trade Tech and CSULA, giving their students the opportunity to get college credit while at LA CAUSA.

Robert Zardeneta exclaims, “What’s more radical than taking a young person who is a ‘drop out’ and bringing them to CSULA? To me that’s pretty radical.”

The new College Career Center has been beneficial for the shift of college readiness to take place. Rogelio Medina, the director of Post Secondary Education and the College Career Center, felt it was a disservice not to implement career development and college awareness into the program.

Medina credits the establishment of the College Career Center to the community leadership group called Presente. This group of students was first established as a Community Leadership Project (CLP).  Presente’s mission was to get everyone at LA CAUSA to graduate. “This group was the one who led the movement in LA CAUSA to promote college and graduation,” said Medina.

In  2009, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited this community leadership project, prompting awards from the White House. After that, Rogelio made the moves to open the College Career Center. Rogelio says, “This is were you see the genius of having young people in charge. They go large. These young people are powerful.”

Though LA CAUSA has undergone many changes since its early days, the main priority is still the same: offer the community what other public schools have not succeeded.

Professor Covarrubias states, “When you work with a population, your responsibility as an organization is to ensure that that population feels served by your organization. Schools should do that as well.”