Irene De La Cruz: Merced County service clubs make a difference

Many community and service club organizations exist locally with a general theme: to serve the needs of the community and provide individuals with a platform that serves their particular cause or interest.

Here in Merced County, it is my understanding there are more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations. Some of the most commonly known organizations are those such as the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Elks Lodge, United Way, Lions Club, Boosters Club and others that have been around for many years. If you go to any city in the United States, you can be sure that one of these aforementioned organizations are in existence.

Keep in mind, of course, that included in that category of nonprofit organizations you have church groups, sports groups, business groups, law enforcement group, medical groups, etc. The interesting thing is that even though some of these organizations have been functioning for more than 70 years, some people still don’t know they exist.

But there are some other organizations that have also existed for many years that warrant mentioning here. For example, here in Merced County we also have Club Mercedes, MEChA, the Ariday Hispanic Women, the Association of the Mexican American Educators, the ALPCIP Association, Migrant Education and others. Another such organization is the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is a national organization at least 85 years old, having been established in 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas, and is the oldest Latino organization in America. There are many councils that have been established throughout the United States, and we are fortunate that here in Merced County we have a council called the Los Banos LULAC Council No. 3072.

The Los Banos LULAC Council was established over 15 years ago and the majority of its members are from not just Los Banos, but also from Dos Palos, Santa Nella and Gustine. There are a few members from Merced and Livingston as well. The organization’s mission is “to advance the economic conditions, educational opportunities, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population.”

Yet, similar to other organizations, everyone is welcome to attend their meetings and/or become a member. The group features a guest speaker at most of their monthly meetings and their membership consists of many members, but it is a handful of those members that consistently do most of the work.

An important component of this organization is the LULAC Youth Council, which is composed of local high school students who participate on a volunteer basis with their activities and take part in the decision making process of the organization. Some of these annual activities include a student scholarship program, a youth leadership and parent conference, and participation in different community events and projects countywide.

One of the members of the Los Banos LULAC Council No. 3072 is longtime resident of Los Banos, Lea Hernandez, who also happens to be the president of the local organization. Hernandez and the board of directors have established and developed partnerships and positive working relationships with other groups such as the Los Banos Unified School District, the Merced County Office of Education, the Los Banos City Council, Rep. Jim Costa, state Sen. Anthony Cannella, Assemblyman Adam Gray and other elected officials and community advocates.

Hernandez has found a way to make it work so that it be inclusive, engage both youth and adults, incorporate teamwork, and maintain that spirit of unity and determination. Having been part of their conference and having attended some of their meetings, I’ve witnessed how well they work together and how the community is receptive to what they do. This has helped placed them in a position of integrity and respect as an organization in Merced County and they have lasted the “test of time” due to their diligence and “can do” attitude.

LULAC has and continues to make a difference for our local youths, our local parents, and our local communities. They are an integral part of the future of Merced County because they are preparing our youth to seek higher education and to become responsible citizens of our communities. In addition, this organization continues an American tradition of service to others through the good times and the tough times.

It’s good to know that our country allows not just the freedom of speech, but also the freedom to organize so that organizations such as LULAC can continue to do the good work that they do for everyone in the community.