"I believe that homelessness can just be an experience that youth go through - it doesn't define them. I'm inspired by their stories of strength, and am passionate about providing the support and guidance that leads them to a better life."
Father Richard Estrada has made it his mission to help homeless youth find their paths to a long and happy life through Jovenes, Inc., a nonprofit organization he founded in 1991.
Based in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Jovenes, Inc. helps homeless youth and at-risk families become productive and active members of the community. From 1991 to 2007, Father Estrada served as its executive director. From 1991 until today, Father Estrada has served as its board president. Under his direction, Jovenes, Inc. has become a safe haven for about 165 inner city youth and at-risk families annually by providing shelter and housing, individualized case management, employment services, life skills training, leadership development, domestic violence and mental health services. Its Continuum of Care program offers emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Community outreach has also been a key to its success. Jovenes, Inc. is continuing to grow through its My Home-Mi Casa initiative, where the organization is buying and converting local properties into permanent affordable housing for youth. The annual LA Taco Festival held in Mariachi Plaza raises awareness about Jovenes, Inc. while bringing together local artists, musicians, vendors, community stakeholders and the general public.
In addition to his involvement at Jovenes, Inc., Father Estrada is an associate pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, or, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles, a historic church located in the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District. He has served as a priest and member of the Claretian Missionary Order since 1973.
Father Estrada began his advocacy of homeless youth more than 30 years ago. Previously, Father Estrada served as director of Angels Flight (Catholic Charities, Los Angeles Archdiocese), project developer for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, chaplain of Central Juvenile Hall and associate pastor of Our Lady of Solitude, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1977.
Father Estrada, who was born and raised in East Los Angeles and is of Mexican descent, was the first Latino Roman Catholic priest to open the U.S. Congress with an invocation. Father Estrada is the recipient of the American Institute for Public Service Jefferson Award and was recognized by the Los Angeles City Council for his exemplary work in the community. He is a spokesperson for and member of the New Sanctuary National Movement, was certified in 2000 by the Homeless Transitional Housing Training Institute and is a member of the Interfaith Communities United Justice and Peace.