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Cover of Jonathan's new book (translation: "I survived for you to live")

Cover of Jonathan’s new book (translation: “I survived for you to live”)

Twenty-six years ago, HOLA began as five kids, one volunteer and a basketball in a church basement. This month, Jonathan Orozco, one of HOLA’s original five, returned to HOLA to share his thoughts and new book with the parents of our Bridges middle school students. 

“No matter how busy you are, make time for you kids,” he advised a packed room. “Talk to your kids about who they are and where they come from. A strong sense of identity and belonging could save their lives.”

Born in Guatemala to a loving mother and an abusive father, Jonathan remembers his childhood as tumultuous; a period of feeling lost. When his mother could no longer tolerate his father’s violent tendencies, she packed up Jonathan and his siblings and immigrated to California. Settling in Koreatown Los Angeles’ Koreatown, she took on multiple jobs in order to support her children. In school, Jonathan describes feeling quite alone. He was an immigrant, and his mother couldn’t be around because she was a single mom working full time for minimal pay. When Jonathan met HOLA’s founder Mitch, he thought his life was headed in a positive direction. But Jonathan still had so much to overcome.

“I had hate and violence in my heart that my father had planted at an early age,” Jonathan told our parents, “I think that’s why I was so recruitable to gangs and that life.”

Though Mitch and HOLA volunteers tried to sway Jonathan toward a brighter future, Jonathan was lured to the streets. As a gang member, Jonathan discovered a sense of power and a name for himself.  Quickly, he moved up the ranks, gaining infamy as enemy #1 to rival gangs who all knew his name. One afternoon, he was hanging with his friends that included a young pregnant woman and some members of an opposing gang drove up and started shooting. Jonathan, shot in the back, survived. However, he would never walk again.

This was the moment where Jonathan decided to transform his life.

“The wheelchair saved me,” Jonathan continues. “You know they say that the way out of gang is either death or jail, but for me, this injury was enough for me to realize this was not the life for me. I had hope, and I had my mother. I had this community at HOLA that never gave up on me.”

Today, as a music teacher, motivational speaker and recent author of the memoir “Sobrevivi Para Que Tu Vivas,” Jonathan has never looked back. He is living proof of one’s ability to change, grow, and pursue their ultimate dreams.

“When I think of Jonathan I think of perseverance,” HOLA’s Executive Director Tony recalls. “He is an honored alum because of his willingness to share his story. His wisdom and his grace, and his willingness to give back to our community — he is a genuinely good guy and I feel so lucky to know him.”

HOLA believes that Jonathan’s journey can be a lesson for everyone and we are proud to help spread it. As George Eliot famously said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” 


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