HOUSTON – All year round, KPRC 2 will celebrate and spotlight people in and around the Greater Houston area from all different backgrounds who are making a difference in our community.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, Voices of Houston is spotlighting Larry Savala. Savala is the director and founder of the Hispanic Family Initiative and the Larry’s Gift Foundation. He has held many leadership roles in the Greater Houston community. Most recently, he helped with providing mentorship for families dealing with gang crises and has delivered gifts during the holidays to families in need.
Watch Larry Savala’s inspiring story below
Meet Larry Savala
I am the second youngest of 10 children. When my mom and dad grew up in this area, my father showed me and demonstrated what it is to be a good father, a strong dad. My mother showed me the grace in humanity. At a very young age, I realized that strong communities needed strong families. I saw a lot of families in crisis and began doing whatever I could to connect them with good people.
I began to reach out to fathers to be better dads with their children, giving them the tools. I did that through conferences here across the United States, which involved, at the time, the Bush Administration and the Department of Education Department of Health and Human Services.
How are you involved in our community?
I have been involved with the Father and Families Coalition of America, where I’ve also received awards through them and been recognized by the City of Houston and the government for my volunteerism. I was also part of the Pasadena ISD school board in 2014. I also founded the Conference for Young Girls, teenage girls, and middle school boys. I have engaged with these girls in good mentorship and how to have great relationships. Also how to be careful out in this world and setting goals for their education. Also, the Hispanic Family Conference, I’ve been able to train over 2000 school district personnel across the country on how to engage and how to understand Hispanic families in crisis.
I have also been a part of an initiative where I am able to counsel and guide parents who have children that are in crisis such as gangs. I teach them how to parent their children from the time they’re in a gang, and hopefully, trying to help the parents get these children out of gangs.
How did Larry’s Foundation begin?
In 2006, my son Larry--my firstborn--was murdered at the age of 26. He was an innocent victim of a crime and the best son, brother, uncle, that you could ever have. We started the Larry’s Gift Foundation to honor Larry and to assist families around the world. For example, orphanages in Mexico: every year we have a big Christmas celebration where we invite families that are in crisis, homelessness or children that are dying, and we give them the best Christmas that they could have ever imagined through volunteers and friends of ours in this city. We do that every year, and we’ll be doing that again in December.
It touches our hearts to see families that we already know that have a child that is dying and might not live another year. To see dads and mothers bring their children to that event, knowing that they’re broke, no jobs and they’re homeless living in a car, we bring these families together. They take a picture with Santa Claus as a family; we print it out and give it to them. We have new gifts wrapped--with their names on it--that the parents are able to pick up and take it to their home and unwrap during Christmas, a good hot meal for them, lots of games for the children. It’s a blast for them to come. So, for my family to see this every year--and we do this and in honor of my son Larry--there’s no better feeling than that. We leave the event just like those families leave it. We leave blessed. We thank God for it and all of our friends that helped us. Couldn’t do it without.
Why is it important to give back to the community?
My faith has a lot to do with this and I believe that God sent me to a place in this world to make a difference. Our communities and these cities are being run down and are not going to get any better unless we have strong families living in them. It’s important for me to engage dads and mothers to build strong families with their children. If we can do that, if we can help a family get stronger than their neighbors, everything is stronger because they’re going to be able to show them. That’s my heart. I believe that’s its mission. And it’s something that we’ve been able to do every year for many, many years.
What does it feel like to be back in your Barrio?
It means a lot for me to be here in the area that I grew up in because it’s bringing in a lot of memories right now. I remember walking down this street that I’m in front of right now and eating at this place behind me, this restaurant. But it was just a few blocks from here, there that my life changed at the age of 18. It was a pastor that came to this school, my middle school, and talk to us about leaving drugs and the bad life and showed us a new life to God. So, it was through that time that my life changed forever. Gosh, that was 50 years ago and I’m still doing it. The need to continue to do this in this area, and not just this area but also the city of Houston, it’s so important because the message that we bring--my family brings--to these communities, to these families is a message of hope. And it’s a beautiful feeling walking into a home that maybe doesn’t have a father, and knowing that might be the first man that has walked into their home and shared with them hope for their life, for their education, their future, for their jobs, means a lot to me.
What does Familia mean to you?
La Familia in our culture is number one. Sometimes that’s hard to understand and it’s hard to explain, it’s in our blood. My father showed me what a family should be like, never to leave the family, always engaged in the family, to support them and do whatever you can to make it work. So, familia for me is loving my wife of 40 years, loving my son Daniel, loving my daughters, Virginia and Andrea, and remembering my son Larry, who we don’t have anymore. But the family and my grandchildren, there is no greater thing that you can do than to improve and stay engaged. La familia, in our culture, is the most important thing, nothing better than that.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
One of the things I realized, that you don’t have to have a lot of money to help people. If I left a legacy, it would be the legacy of volunteerism, that there are people that need you. And all you got to do is find them. They’re all around you. If I had a company, I would give them a company. But what I have is my life, my life has been a servant to others. I think that the day I die, the day I pass away, I want to be remembered by that. I was able to touch families' lives. I was able, to help fathers across this country. I was able to help the community centers, engage with their families, and teach them. That’s the kind of legacy that I want to leave. Most of all, that I did it for God because if it wasn’t for God in my life, everything else I’ve done would have been impossible.
I just want to let everybody know that there’s hope that whatever situation that they find themselves in, there’s a way out. To not to seclude themselves, but include others in their life, reach out to others. And if you do that, you’re going to be successful, you’re gonna come out. And I believe that. Have hope, reach out to others, don’t seclude yourself. There’s a plan for your life. God has a big vision for you.