You can go home again.
And that's just what one longtime local nonprofit has done, shifting its focus to Merced from Mexico.
In 1970 a group of Mercedians concerned about children living in abject poverty along Mexico's border with the U.S. got together to do something about it.
The group's initial focus, in cooperation with others in the state and in Baja California, was to help improve the lives of children living around the dumps that skirt many border towns.
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"In or near every Mexican border town, you will find trash dumps. Some of the bigger cities have more than one 'official' dump, and there are countless smaller, unlicensed places piled with garbage. Some of the official dumps are quite large, and some, like the one outside of Tecate, are small and well hidden. People live in almost every one of them," wrote Luis Alberto Urrea in his 1993 chronicle of life along the border, "Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border."
It was the children of such places that Los Amigos de Los Ninos of California (the Merced group's eventual name) set out to help.
The fist major step taken by the group was to help the Salvatierra girl's orphanage in Tecate. Volunteers traveled to the orphanage to build dwellings and help bring water and electricity to the facility.
By 1976 the group, which included a local Catholic priest, had helped Salvatierra became a full-service orphanage. That same year the group incorporated, cementing the founders' commitment to their efforts.
By 2009, while the Southern California-based arm of the group that concentrated on work in Mexico was alive and well, the Merced-based group had lost much of its vigor. Most of its original members had either died or were too old to be as involved as they had been.
But two women who didn't want to see the organization atrophy here in Merced, Kathy Padilla and Diane Taylor, stepped in to reinvigorate the group. "We could see that nothing was in the works," said Padilla, who had been the group's past president. "It was time to take it back."
Padilla has been involved with Los Amigos for much of her life through one of its founders, Micaela Perezchica, her godmother. "No matter what was going on, I always attended," said Padilla. Perezchica would bring Padilla along to fundraising dinners from when she was 9, said Padilla. She would help clean up plates and do dishes. Eventually, she became the group's president.
Now, instead of helping children in Mexico, the nonprofit, which has about seven active members, is looking closer to home. Its new efforts will help struggling students in California. "With our group we wanted to concentrate on our area," said Padilla.
The impetus for the shift back home came from two directions. First, the Southern California arm of the organization, which is still working in Mexico, is self-sufficient and doing fine, so they don't need the help of people in Merced. Second, people in Merced and other areas in California, who had donated money to the cause, had been saying, "'Why don't we help local kids?'" said Padilla.
So they set out with a new plan to help any second-graders in California struggling to read.
The emphasis on second-grade reading skills, said Taylor, has a specific reason: If children start falling behind in their reading skills by third grade, they have a high probability of never closing that gap. "If kids aren't proficient in reading by third grade, they continue to lag," said Taylor.
That is where Los Amigos de Los Ninos of California hopes to come in. Through their fundraising they plan to give grants to any schools in the state in need. That help could include buying glasses, books and reading aids for needy kids.
While the group got its start helping kids in Mexico and has a Spanish name, Taylor and Padilla emphasize that it's not a Latino group. "Because of our name we are thought of as a Hispanic group -- we are not," said Padilla.
Added Taylor, "We help any child who is underserved."
Their last fundraiser in Merced, and their 35th anniversary party, was a March 6 dinner that raised roughly $7,000. They hope to bring that number up to their earlier annual average of $13,000. "We are a small group, but we aren't ready to give it up," said Padilla.
But so far no schools have applied for a grant with Los Amigos.
For more information about Los Amigos de Los Ninos of California, go to its Web site at www.losamigosca.org.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or email@example.com.