I try to attend the National Caring Awards every year because I meet folks who restore my faith in humanity. Most of them are people none of us have ever heard of before like Rosie Espinoza from La Habra, California.
Rosie was born in a camp for migrant workers in La Habra over 50 years ago. She was brought up in a strict, extended family, did well in school, and became a medical instrument designer. Rosie married Alex, had a son, and then wanted to move back to La Habra and feel a part of a shared community. They bought a little house and moved back to La Habra, but it wasn’t the childhood paradise Rosie remembered. Kids were still standing on street corners with baseball bats, except now they weren’t looking for a pickup game. But they had made an investment, and Rosie saw potential in the neighborhood.
First she dealt with the gang problem on her street and formed a neighborhood watch group. Gang members weren’t happy, and when they found police cars parked in front of their house, they left a message spray-painted on Alex’s truck, “Don’t finger us. Keep your mouth shut.” It was the first time Rosie also ever heard a bullet whiz by. She prayed for help in figuring out what to do next and wondered whether she had made a terrible mistake in coming back.
She canvassed neighborhood homes (including those of gang members) looking for some answers. What she learned was that many of her neighbors spoke little English, couldn’t help their kids with their homework, and they were dropping out of school at an alarming rate. That’s when she decided to help the neighborhood kids with their homework, and such was the beginning of Rosie’s Garage ( HYPERLINK “http://www.rosiesgarage.org” www.rosiesgarage.org.).
She convinced Alex to let her convert the garage into a classroom and then scrounged around for desks, books, and materials. There was no money, no name, no formal incorporation or Board of Directors; there was just her and Alex, her sister, and some neighbors. The word spread in markets, beauty and barber shops, and bulletin boards. The first day she opened the garage door there were 16 kids waiting. From that humble beginning Rosie taught kids not only how to be successful, but how to respect themselves.
The gang activity on their street stopped because gang members saw their brothers and sisters going there and doing well in school. Nobody really knows how many kids Rosie’s garage has inspired, but it’s now moved from the garage to a location in a city government building a quarter-mile away.
I told Rosie her garage was a community-based mental health program and direction psychiatry ought to be moving, if it is ever going to deal with the escalating rates of kids with diagnosable mental illnesses for which we prescribe drugs. Instead of a model of health based on that kind of intervention, we need one that emphasizes prediction and prevention. Rosie opened a garage door for fragile soap-box cars, and what emerged were armored vehicles to engage the future.
P.S. If you’re interested in a transformational healing workshop/intensive join me and Dr. Brad Keeney (who has learned the Kalahari Bushman Shaking Medicine), on Jan.13-15, 2008 for The Dancing Healers. Check homepage ( HYPERLINK “https://www.healingdoc.com” www.healingdoc.com) for details.