gmhTODAY 30 gmhTODAY April June 2020s | Page 21

J aime wears his hair long to “let go of everything else.” He has a broad, strong face with creases well-earned from smiling. “One thing my parents were sticklers about was having din- ner together every night,” Jaime said. “My dad made a table that could sit sixteen, for the whole family plus any friends who stayed to eat. Everyone ate the same thing. Nobody could start eating until we had said prayers. You had to clean your plate—no leftovers— and then you had to clear the table. That really bonded us. Everything was about the family.” Jaime has a large extended family of his own, with three children and nine grandchil- dren, his parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins, many of whom live in the area. But he has expanded the definition of “extended family” to include the youth, couples, families, and organizations in Gilroy that he has championed, mentored, and advo- cated for all these years. “I’ve always been involved in youth issues,” Jaime said. His first job in Gilroy was with South County Alternatives—the forerunner to Community Solutions. “I was the Prevention Coordinator which received funding from drug abuse prevention. I got involved in the schools, organizing youth groups, youth counseling for truants, and working with kids who were difficult to deal with.” Jaime’s interest in schools began while he was still in Southern California where he taught folkloric dance, was part of a tutoring program, and organized cultural field trips for kids. In Gilroy, his interest continued, in part because of Evelia’s teaching and involvement with youth in the community. Once again, he taught folkloric dance and organized activities for Latino youth. He stepped up his advocacy by serving on and working with the Gilroy School Board for 19 years. “A lot of people criticized the public schools. They asked why I didn’t send my kids to Catholic school. To me, the public schools are only as good as we make them. If we get behind the public schools, they’re going to be good schools. It was about making sure that every kid had an equal opportunity to suc- ceed, recognizing the importance of teachers, giving value to parents, and fighting for facili- ties that show pride in our kids.” Jaime’s interest in families is evident by the work he’s done with the Marriage Encounter Retreat Team, the Gilroy Latino Family Fund, the Luchessa Migrant Housing Center, and Las Rositas Senior Center, plus all the com- mittees and boards he has served on. He was the founding President of the Gilroy Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1980-81 with about 70 members. “It was the thing that got me more widely involved in the community and recognized,” he said. A portion of this involvement includes his thirty-plus years as a member of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, his member- ship in Gilroy Rotary, and his participation in Leadership Gilroy. “Part of my founding principles is the way I see life around me: to tune in to people in need. In college, I attended a conference at UC Santa Cruz about getting involved. Somebody handed me a card that read, ‘The Hunger Project.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do with this? Give money? Sign a petition?’ He said, ‘That’s up to you.’ “At that moment, I realized it’s up to each person to decide what they’re going to do about any given issue. If you give money, you can feel good about yourself. But if you make a commitment to do something about it, to get involved, then you can make a real difference. “I feel personal responsibility for what’s happening everywhere in the world. Whatever I can do I’m going to do. To me, it’s, first, being aware of an issue, and, second, acting on it.” GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN SPRING 2020 “I’m very grateful for being selected Man of the Year. I was very surprised. I love Gilroy. I really do. We chose Gilroy, and I really believe in building the community.” 21