Alberto Vasquez was a 20-year-old kid from Compton in a gang. He was also dealing with identity issues of being Latino and gay when he walked through the doors of Bienestar, a local nonprofit dedicated to the well-being of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community.
“Bienestar helped me with the skills I needed to come to terms with my identity and a place to grow as a person,” said Vasquez. “By the time I was 23, I was a staff member, working to provide peer-to-peer services to other men and developing the skills I would use to begin a career helping others.”
Vasquez was a speaker at Southern California Edison’s (SCE) 4th annual Lighthouse signature event, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Equality — Celebrating the Diversity of the American LGBT Community,” where the employee resource group honored Bienestar and helped raise funds for the nonprofit. SCE also presented the nonprofit with a $2,000 check.
Founded in 1989 by Oscar De La O, Bienestar (which means well-being in Spanish) began providing health services in the Silverlake and Hollywood area. The nonprofit also deals with various social justice issues, including poverty and disparity in health access. Bienestar now has services in nine centers throughout Southern California focusing on the LGBT Latino community, but also the larger community in general.
“It began as a very personal effort as I could see that my friends could not find support as there were language and cultural gaps in the health services being provided,” said De La O, at the Lighthouse event. “You can’t separate the health issues from the civil rights and access issues faced by many in the community.”
Chelle Wingeleth, SCE director of Talent Solutions, Diversity and Inclusion, spoke to the group about SCE’s long term efforts in diversity and inclusion. She encouraged employees to get involved with the company’s many Employee Resource Groups, including Lighthouse, which help promote an inclusive work environment for LGBT and all employees.
Wingeleth noted that although great strides have been made within the company, the most important aspect of the inclusion and diversity work SCE has done is ensuring “that employees are able to and are encouraged to bring their whole self to work.”
Leslie Frias, a peer counselor with Bienestar, spoke about her personal journey as a member of the transgender community and thanked SCE for its support and generous donation.
“I am transgendered and the process to address gender identity can be long and difficult,” she said. “If you or someone you know could use our help, please pass our information to them. We all have a common desire to feel connected to family and be part of society and Bienestar is a great place where they can start.”
Vasquez is now a director at Bienestar’s Hollywood facility after having worked at other well-known nonprofits serving the LGBT community in Southern California. He continues to also serve as a counselor.
“Our effort is holistic and we meet our clients where they are at. They are definitely not just a case number,” said Vasquez, who encouraged SCE employees to volunteer at the nonprofit. “Bienestar’s goal is to empower our clients to improve their physical and mental health and become productive members of society.”
Ron Litzinger, SCE president, thanked employees for their support of Bienestar and for their inclusion and support of diversity in the workplace.
“Embracing diversity and differing points of view makes SCE stronger, more flexible and ultimately more successful,” he said.