Cesar Chavez brought hope to millions, and his legacy lives on in a San Diego service organization devoted to his dream of empowerment, generosity and community spirit.
Cesar Chavez Service Clubs, also known as the Chavez Clubs, encourage young people to follow the labor leader’s 10 values: Nonviolence, Respect, Tolerance, Service, Innovation, Sacrifice, Knowledge, Helping the Most Needy, Determination (Si Se Puede), and Celebrating Community.
“These are crucial values for the Chavez Club members, known as Chavistas, and will assist in laying a lifelong foundation they will practice their entire lives,” co-founder Linda LeGerrette said.
LeGerrette and her husband, Carlos, created the first Chavez Club in 2001, decades after they both served as full-time volunteers with Chavez and the United Farm Workers. More than 5,000 young people in San Diego’s inner-city have taken part in club activities, and the clubs have been rapidly growing throughout the decade.
“In 2012, we had 400 club members. In 2013, we grew to 600, and 2014 exploded to 1,000. This year we’ll grow to 1,250 Chavistas in 42 clubs,” Carlos LeGerrette said.
Each Chavez Club chooses a project in which they will help others. Clubs have raised thousands for the Philippines disaster relief and cancer research, served the homeless at Father Joe’s Village, tutored elementary school students, cleaned neighborhood canyons, participated in school beautification programs and cleaned and planted in neighborhood parks. They’ve also visited senior centers, removed graffiti, planted more than 2,000 trees, and led forums attended by major candidates during the last mayoral race. After the project is completed, the Club reflects on how responsible and accountable it was, and how to improve in future projects.
“Our real work with the Chavistas is between the ears,” Carlos LeGerrette said. “Last year, the Clubs accumulated close to 25,000 hours in leadership development activities. Our mission is to inspire our Chavistas to believe in themselves and to know they can make a difference.”
Chavez Clubs do more than teach young people to respect themselves and care for others. Research has shown that schoolchildren do better on standardized tests after taking part in Chavez Club programs, and the dropout rate is low among participants.
“I’m most proud of the Chavistas’ self-reliance, leadership, collaborative spirit, community involvement, high esteem and self-confidence and achievement,” Linda LeGerrette said. “Our clubs have been shown to not only better academic performance but to also increase school attendance. Now, we’re seeing college students and graduates who were Chavistas in grades K-12 returning to the club as club coordinators.”
The Cesar Chavez Service Clubs have much more to do. The organization’s three-year strategic plan calls for bringing the program to more school districts, improving the website and online newsletter, and
using funding to expand its programs.
The mission will remain the same: Guide young people to a better future with the help of Cesar Chavez’s timeless lessons. “These values will challenge our young people to make each day a little better,” Linda LeGerrette said. “These lessons will cement a foundation of respect and understanding for differing backgrounds and perspectives and lay a path of reaching across, an invaluable skill not practiced by today’s leaders.”