A celebrated movie star may have co-founded it, but the national nonprofit Empowering Latino Futures (ELF) remains a little bit under the radar, quietly and confidently doing exactly what its name says.
The North County-headquartered group, founded more than 25 years ago by Hispanic media leader Kirk Whisler and famed actor Edward James Olmos has developed a group of culturally relevant programs and offer resources and information that increase access to education and uplift Latino voices.
“There are a lot of great organizations out in the community now,” said Whisler, who lives in Fallbrook. “When we started, there were fewer in the Latino community, especially on the health side. One of the key things over the years is we have seen ourselves as a facilitator, providing resources and connecting people to other programs. At ELF, all of our programs are basically fulfilling in one way or another that facilitator role.”
This weekend, the event that started the group on its mission is coming to MiraCosta College.
The Latino Book & Family Festival, featuring more than 100 exhibitors, bilingual activities and workshops, and information on health, education and financial empowerment, will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, June 10 at the school on Barnard Drive in Oceanside.
Book Festival History
The first Latino Book & Family Festival in Los Angeles in 1997 paved the way for ELF, as Olmos and Whisler sought to ease their frustration that no large public events were targeted to the needs of the Latino community, especially where education and health needs were concerned.
Since then, more than 4,000 companies, education institutions, government bodies, nonprofits and more have shared space at more than 70 ELF-backed festivals, offering information from sources as varied as the automotive industry to financial services to union sectors.
ELF board member and Oceanside resident Edward Becerra, a retired Pacific Bell worker-turned-San Diego County social worker at Child Protective Services who now heads Education Begins in the Home (EBITH) — an offshoot of ELF — said this is the ELF’s fifth festival at MiraCosta since 2017 and the group’s 71st overall throughout the United States.
EBITH focuses on improving literacy levels among students in North County and with the help of volunteers and partnerships with organizations like the North Coast Church in Oceanside, EBITH has distributed more than 208,000 books since its inception in 2015.
This year’s event will also include live music, local troupes dancing and an author village with more than 20 writers discussing their latest books.
Keynote speakers at the free event include award-winning authors Reyna Grande (“The Distance Between Us”) and Victor Villaseñor (“Rain of Gold”) and Jimmy Figueroa, executive director of Operation HOPE North County, a nonprofit that helps families with children and single women experiencing homelessness.
“We want our families to come and find all the different resources available to them,” Becerra said. “Families are struggling right now and need all the help they can get, not just in terms of food and medical assistance but also educational information.”
ELF has impacted more than 1 million people with other programs like the International Latino Book Awards, which annually recognizes more than 200 authors and has become a platform for Latino authors to gain recognition in the industry.
Other ELF initiatives include the Latino & American Indian Scholarship Directory, an Empowering Students website (empoweringstudents.org) and the North County Informador, a bilingual weekly media outlet that focuses on the Latin community.
Jonathan Gómez, program manager of outreach at MiraCosta, said it has been a privilege for the school to host the festival.
“This year’s festival is extra special because MiraCosta recently received a Title V grant to help bolster educational attainment amongst Latino students,” Gómez said. “MiraCosta’s collaboration with (ELF) shows its commitment to being a true ‘community college,’ one that is open and accessible to the surrounding community and acknowledges that representation matters. Our students feel safe and seen when we create spaces that welcome them.”
Empowering Latino Futures
FOUNDERS: Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler
CEO: Edward James Olmos
BUSINESS: Nonprofit that empowers Latino families
SOCIAL IMPACT: Encourages students from all backgrounds to continue their educations, focuses on Latino children but open to all.
NOTABLE: More than 1 million people have been impacted by the organization’s four program areas.