Established in 1965, Latin Americans for Social & Economic Development, better known as LA SED, is an advocacy and social service agency that addresses the unique needs of the residents of Southwest Detroit, home to the largest concentration of Hispanics in Southeastern Michigan. It’s also one of several area organizations that’s benefiting from an initiative put forth by Detroit General Manager Dave Leaver, encouraging his Leadership Team to be more involved in the community.
“It’s important having my staff directly involved with organizations in the community to open their eyes to the needs and concerns that are going on out there,” says Leaver. “As they are more involved with the community, more involved with nonprofits, it broadens their view of the things that are important outside the facility and in the community in which we operate.”
Leaver identified Jim Joaquin, who had recently relocated back to his childhood hometown to become the Detroit refinery controller, as an ideal candidate to be more involved outside the fence line. In his short time working at the refinery, he stood out as someone with a passion to help others.
“Jim is remarkable in his care for people,” says Leaver. “He really wants to be engaged not just as a Controller for the plant. He wants to be connected to our employees and be successful outside the plant.”
Joaquin’s parents grew up in the Detroit area, living in several neighborhoods. When Joaquin was born, they settled in Southgate where he lived until he was 18. He recalls passing the refinery in his youth and being impressed. Now, working at the very place he admired, Joaquin immediately embraced the request to engage with his neighbors.
“When LA SED initially approached Marathon about getting involved, they said what do you think of this guy? And they sent me a very brief bio on Jim, and I said well, we’d love to meet him,” says LA SED Director Mary Carmen Muñoz. “Turns out Jim is the kind of member that every organization wants on their board.”
“The opportunity to become a board member of LA SED was a real ‘wow’ moment,” expressed Joaquin, who not only serves as the Detroit refinery’s Controller but the same position for the Canton refinery. Prior to the invitation to join the board, however, Joaquin admits he was unfamiliar with LA SED. Excited about the position, he asked his parents if they knew anything about the organization.
The response they gave brought everything full circle.
For the first time, Joaquin learned about a tough chapter in his family’s history. In 1982, when Joaquin was five years old, the Ford Motor Company had laid off his father, who had been a millwright at the Detroit plant.
“When you’re a kid, your parents always try to shield you and do the best they can to keep you from pain,” said Joaquin. “When I look back, the pieces fit together. My dad was laid off. It was getting to a point where he wasn’t finding any work. Everything was running out and they were concerned.”
It was a family friend who recommended LA SED as a possible source of support – a recommendation that proved life saving for the Joaquin’s. LA SED embraced the family and helped his dad land a job at the local tank plant until Ford began hiring people back.
“If LA SED was not there, I can’t tell you what would have happened between then and when Ford called my dad back. Thankfully, LA SED existed, and we were pointed in their direction. They took my dad in and they said ‘we’re going to find you an opportunity.’ For me to find that out, I’m now personally invested.”
It’s a story Muñoz was unaware of as well.
“Mary didn’t know until I relayed the connection I had discovered. She was taken back.”
“It amazes me that he did not know that story,” adds Muñoz. “As parents, when you are going through a financial crisis of any kind, you want to make sure your child’s life is as normal as possible. That reflects on his family and an excellent job that they did to keep him from knowing that they were really struggling. He is a product of a family that was strong, that was tight knit, and not only gave to the community, but also was in a position to receive help and assistance. They took the opportunities that LA SED gave them.”
On the circumstances that brought Joaquin to LA SED, Leaver says “I’m not sure if it’s divine intervention or not, but it’s just awesome how it worked out.”
Support of LA SED for Joaquin has truly become personal. For him, it’s truly giving back.
The organization serves more than 5,000 individuals on an annual basis, but Muñoz will tell you the numbers have exponentially increased due to COVID-19. They offer a broad range of programming, including youth enrichment and sports and fitness, bilingual/bicultural classes, a robust slate of senior citizen offerings, translation and pro-bono legal consultations, and immigration services and basic human needs. All offered to a clientele that is 90% Hispanic, with 98% living at, or below the poverty level.
“When I look at the organization, I see more than LA SED. I see my childhood; I see my parents,” says Joaquin. “This is where my roots are.”