By Galen Patterson
Peter Mejia grew up in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles. His mother was a victim of severe kidney disease and was singularly raising five children in spite of it. Life was hard for Mejia and his family from an early age, but somewhere along the line, Mejia found the want to help others.
His childhood home was close to the Boys and Girls Club of Boyle Heights and young Mejia would race to the gate to open it for the woman driving the bus at the club. The woman, Judy Zdravje told Mejia that when he was old enough, she wanted him to join her at the club.
Zdravje would turn out to be one of several important influences in Mejia’s life. When Mejia was old enough to join, money was scarce in his family, but Zdravje was willing to pay for his membership. “She called me her main man,” said Mejia. Because Mejia opened the gate for Zdravje, she would open gates to his future.
Mejia lived off of food stamps and free lunches the Boys and Girls Club provided. When he was old enough, Mejia got his first job as a lifeguard working with the Boys and Girls Club and was finally able to help his mother with family expenses.
Eventually, Mejia became a regular staff member with the club, and when the Boyle Heights location underwent a full reconstruction, Mejia moved to a location where he could continue his work with the organization at the Boys and Girls Club of the Foothills, in Monrovia.
At first, leaving the Boyle Heights location was difficult. “It was my street, my community, my people. I knew those kids for a long time,” said Mejia. Seven years on, Mejia is still doing his best for those under his care.
In 2017, the director of fund development, at Mejia’s location, Amanda Navar, selected him for a nationwide contest for the Maytag Dependable Leader Award, which Mejia won and was presented with on Dec. 2. With the award came a $20,000 grant for Mejia’s club location.
The money will help cover the costs of the site, including memberships for families that have difficulty paying the current membership costs, the very obstacle that threatened Mejia’s entry into the Club.
Now, Mejia serves as the site director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Foothills. Zdravje took the role of Mejia’s deceased mother at his wedding a few years ago and retired as Executive Director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club.
Mejia is a product of the Club. It gave him an outlet to help others and learn while doing it. He admits that while he teaches children in the ways of the world, the children in turn help him understand them and how to be for them what others have been to him.