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hometown hero

VIDEO: Bringing today’s youth in-step with spirituality, personal growth

Eriquez named Hometown Hero in Spiritual category


Mike Chavez first met Joe Eriquez at the age of 13 when his mom was in prison and his father was not in his life.

At the time, Chavez said he had troubles with the law and in school, but Eriquez took him in, becoming a needed father figure at the time, and remaining one to this day.

Eriquez helped Chavez find his way.

Thirty years later, Chavez is helping his mentor as the Sports Director at Heart for the City, an urban life ministry created by Eriquez that puts at-risk youth on the right path. Chavez is giving back in the same way Eriquez has over the years, by being a positive role model in children’s lives, building up young athletes, inspiring them to find greater meaning in life and becoming Christ-like individuals.

He said Eriquez has always been a transformational coach and leader, not transactional, never asking for anything other than to walk life with him, like Jesus does.

“Joe was always a father figure to me. I see myself in a lot of these kids. I want to be a positive role model in their life,” Chavez said.

Eriquez formed Heart For The City in 2006 and over the years has helped put countless kids, like Chavez once was, on the path to God and being productive members of society.

Eriquez said HFTC is committed to helping meet the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of the children and families of the inner city. Special emphasis is placed on low-income neighborhoods in the West Valley by creating innovative solutions that families face every day.

The organization offers club sports for low income kids, has two cafes in Peoria that employ vulnerable teens, as well as 180 kids enrolled in their programs, including 48 that they send, on full scholarship, to Phoenix Christian High School.

Eriquez is the driving force behind all of it.

“It’s all about the kids — changing lives one kid at a time,” Eriquez said.

For his work in the West Valley community, Eriquez has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the Spiritual Category.

The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.

Eriquez will be honored at an awards luncheon in February.

In partnership with the city of Peoria, he also was also interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.

As a high school athlete, a leader in Young Life Arizona, and a baseball coach of 10 years at a Valley high school, Eriquez learned that many kids did not have the tools and potential they would need to pursue a lifetime in a professional sports career.

But, he said, they needed some type of positive divergence from the despair they witnessed every day in the form of poverty, drugs and crime. So he came up with the idea for Heart For The City.

The need, Eriquez said, is to raise up a generation that can break down the walls that trap at-risk youth.

“We do whatever it takes to work with the whole kid in each kid to raise up a new generation. Not just through sports, not just through education, not just through mentoring, not just through job training, but, through a program that breaks down the walls in all these dimensions of an at risk youth’s life,” he said.

The HFTC program also includes a community garden where children are presented with instructions on nutrition and gardening.

Peoria City Councilmember Vicki Hunt has known Eriquez for nearly 20 years and is proud to know him and see how his programs have helped so many children, generation after generation.

“I know no one with a bigger heart for young people in our community or with a bigger, heartier laugh to brighten the day of those around him,” she said.

As part of HFTC, there are two locations of Java Grounds, a cafe that employs young people to prepare and serve food to their customers. The teens are taught about every aspect of the business from customer service to handling money.

Eriquez said Java Grounds is like the minor league preparation for these kids’ futures in the major league world of employment.

Through the organization’s association with other area businesses, once young people have completed their training at Java Grounds, they are launched out into the real world with jobs at other local establishments.

Teens finish their work with responsibility, social skills and a strong work ethic.

One location is housed on the first floor of Peoria City Hall, where  Cathy Carlat encountered him on a daily basis when she was mayor.

She said Java Grounds is more than a coffee house and cafe.

Eriquez is a powerhouse, fueled by God and mission, and there is no stopping him, she said.

“I have known Joe Eriquez for over a decade and during that time I have only seen his passion for helping kids expand. Everything he says and does is about getting them off the streets, exposing them to new environments, and giving them the life skills to succeed,” she said. “Joe, his wonderful family, and his dedicated team work tirelessly every day to change lives, and that is exactly what they do, creating a foundation and giving hope to kids who had none.”

Get to know Eriquez more here.