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by Julia Bencomo Lobaco, AARP The Magazine, January/February 2008 issue
Pete C. Garcia still remembers the tears—and the words that followed: "One day we're going to have a site like this," an elder Latina told him while attending a senior-housing ribbon cutting. Inherent in her anguish was the question, Why isn't there housing that meets the needs of low-income Latino elders? It was a question that haunted—and inspired—Garcia, 63, president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), a nonprofit community-development corporation based in Phoenix. "Our community wasn't being served," he recalls. "When you go to a viejito's home, you always see three things: pets, flowers, and lots of santos." And so Garcia resolved to build affordable senior housing where Latino elders could enjoy a pet's companionship, tend their own gardens, and go to Mass. The first such complex, Casa de Primavera, opened in 1980 and became home to some 4,000 residents, including Garcia's mother. Today there are seven CPLC-built housing developments in Arizona. But elder housing has been just one of Garcia's priorities in his 35 years with CPLC. The organization also funds Hispanic-owned small businesses, runs a federal credit union, provides shelter for domestic-violence victims, and offers employment training. Along the way, the budget has grown from $3 million to $69 million; the staff, from 85 to 900. Garcia may downplay his success: "They hired me to do a job, and I did it." But at least one colleague knows the source of his humility. "He has an incredible heart," says CPLC cofounder Terri Cruz.
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