Involvement solidifies work ethic


George Morin / The Advocate

Civil engineer major Javier Reyes Ochoa heads a city planning meeting in the multi-purpose room at the Richmond Civic Center on March 31.

By Roxana Amparo, News Editor

At the age of 16 he returned to the Bay Area alone, looking for work to be able to afford U.S. residency for his family living in Mexico and bring them with him in his search for a better quality of life.   

While Contra Costa College student Javier Reyes Ochoa is now a 23-year-old civil engineer major whose family in part still resides in Michoacán, Mexico, he has helped other people through community involvement.

Ochoa was awarded the Local Hero for Youth Engagement award from Bay Nature Institute on March 22, a nonprofit organization that promotes local conservation and nature initiatives in Oakland, because of his aid to at-risk youth and his contributions to improving the environment.

“It’s fun helping the community,” he said. “People recognize you and they value your efforts.”

This award, however, is not the first time Ochoa has been recognized for altering people’s lives positively.

While he attended Richmond High School and worked part time, Ochoa became an involved and enthusiastic math tutor for Straight Talk on Prison (S.T.O.P.).

He soon became a lead tutor for S.T.O.P. and encouraged the youth he was mentoring to become involved with another organization, Groundwork Richmond.

Groundwork Richmond is a non-profit organization that intends to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment by developing community based partnerships to promote economic and social wellbeing.

Executive Director of Groundwork Richmond Sara Calderon said she selected Ochoa for a leading position in Groundwork Richmond because of his involvement with at-risk youth and leadership within the community.

The project coordinator, Ochoa works with the Green Team to replenish and beautify the city of Richmond through tree planting, cleanups and artwork restoration.

Ochoa and the Green Team are currently working to extend the Richmond Greenway, a 3.5 mile-long bicycle and pedestrian path, which will open up alternative transportation methods for residents.

He said he enjoys working with young people because it reminds him of his siblings back in Mexico.

He was born in San Pablo, but he relocated to Michoacán with his family when he was 3 years old.

Once he was old enough to live and work on his own, he left Mexico with the goal of saving enough money to afford his younger sister Rosa’s quincenera, an important celebratory birthday for a young women turning 15 years old in Mexican culture, that his family could not afford.

“What did I have to lose? Money?” he said. “I really wanted my little sister to have her quincenera so I knew I had to do something.”

He said he worked at a grocery store as a stocker in 2007 to save up enough money while still in high school but the language barrier and homesickness attributed to his growing discomfort in the U.S.

“It was very sad time for me. I didn’t like anything about the U.S.,” he said. “I wanted to go back to my family in Mexico.”

Living far away from his family, who resided in Mexico at the time, kept him focused and motivated because among his goals, establishing something for his family was a priority.

Because of his U.S. citizenship, he was able to return to his hometown once he saved up enough money for his sister’s quincenera. 

Since then, he took it upon himself to care for his family’s wellbeing and helped his father and mother gain legal residency status in March of last year, which will benefit the family as a whole.

Ochoa said, “My dad tried crossing over 39 times, and was caught every time.”  The economic situation of his family made it difficult for all of them to be together at once, so he is determined to bring his brother and sister to the U.S. to unite his family.

Although the process is long and could take years, Ochoa said he is “focused.”

Calderon said Ochoa has been a strong influence and caregiver for his family. “They look to him for his leadership.”

While he attends CCC, with plans of graduating and transferring to UC Davis, he is involved with the Center for Science Excellence (CSE).

CSE services and instructional support coordinator Sidharta Setiati said he is “highly involved.” In the future, Ochoa plans to invest toward creating greater opportunities for students in Mexico through a scholarship foundation for students seeking education but lacking financial stability.

“I want to make a lot of money. Not to be rich, but to help people,” he said. “There are a lot of people with great potential in Mexico that although may not have the opportunities present, work hard to get what they need.”