Letty Ayala

Leticia Ayala (middle) has worked with Environmental Health Coalition for close to 20 years, spearheading the organization’s work to raise awareness about lead in homes and candies and help residents live toxic-free lives. We asked Leticia about her time at EHC, and this is what she recollected.

When and why did you begin working with EHC?

I remember the exact date. It was February 6, 1995, and I wanted to be of service to a non-profit in my community.

What was the organization like in 1995?

Fun! We were a small group but totally dedicated die hards.

What was your role when you first began?

At the beginning I was the office manager. Now I’m the director of the Healthy Kids campaign. But my favorite title ever was given to me from the Union-Tribune as “Co-Worker of Laura Hunter.” We got a good laugh out of that.

Share a milestone that stands out to you.

Letty Ayala 2

I see our lead-free candy work as one of our biggest accomplishments. It began in one of our Healthy Kids Community Action Team meetings and was truly a grassroots effort. EHC and partners spearheaded the early 2000s movement to regulate lead levels in candy. After a thorough investigation, lawsuit and a statewide law, California now requires candy manufacturers operate within strict legal standards and undergo regular audits to ensure compliance.

As a result, candy sold in stores today has been tested for lead levels and certified as lead free.

It is a true a Latino public health victory, and I'm so proud to have been spearheading this amazing part of EHC history. Today children are eating candies, not poison. The burden on children and parents has been lifted and we can all enjoy our candies and piñatas the way we should.

If you had to describe EHC to someone new, what would you say?

I would tell them we are a bi-national community organization making a big difference in bringing about a healthy, toxic-free environment for our children, families and all living on mother earth. Everyone and everything matters. Si se puede!

To donate to EHC today, please click here.
To learn more about Leticia's work, click here.

Laura Hunter

Laura Hunter (far left) spearheaded EHC’s work for more than 20 years to clean up the San Diego Bay. Her dedication, determination and drive for environmental justice in our communities has inspired many. We asked Laura to tell us more about her time working with EHC, and this is what we heard.

When did you begin working with EHC, and why?

It’s quite interesting because 20 or more years ago, I used to be a professional musician. I remember driving to the symphony and feeling so depressed by the time I got there after seeing the air pollution and the bad homes in certain neighborhoods. I knew something was very wrong, and I wanted to do something, so I began volunteering at the organization my friend recommended as the best in town –EHC.

That was great, but it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to do something more. I almost applied to law school, but before I did I found out EHC had a job opening for director of its clean bay campaign. I applied and by some miracle, was hired.

I would say I quickly found out the greatest difference between being a musician and an activist: when you’re a performing artist you walk in the room and everyone loves you. As an activist, you walk in the room, and it’s the opposite.

Why did you stay with EHC for so long?

I feel like this organization saved my life. It was the perfect place for me because it turns out civil rights and environmental justice were true passions of mine, and I didn’t even know it until I began working with EHC. I get chills thinking of what my life would have been if I hadn’t found Diane Takvorian and EHC.

Can you describe the early days?

My first office was in the conference room, and Diane was in an office the size of a tiny closet. The organization shared one computer, and we had big floppy disks. I worked on the clean bay campaign for close to 20 years, where my role focused on water and land pollution in and around the bay.

What are you most proud of from your time at EHC?

I think I’m most proud of stopping the methyl bromide fumigation plant and fighting for the cleanup of many sediment contamination sites in the San Diego Bay that continues today.

Mostly, I’m proud of us because we did the hard stuff.

We never did any of the easy things. Everything we did was very, very hard. I’m proud that we existed in that environment and did the effective work, not the easy work. But the whole struggle was really beautiful.

How would you describe EHC to someone who knew nothing about the organization?

These are principled change makers. If you want something to change, or improve, this is the organization that has all the tools. They’re smart, credible, principled and perhaps most importantly, you can trust them with something as important as your community and our environment. You can trust them.

To donate to EHC today, please click here.

Bea Barraza

Beatriz Barraza has been with EHC for nearly 30 of its 35 years. She is currently serving as chair of the fund development committee. We asked Bea about her time at EHC. This is what she had to say.

Describe EHC when you began.

I began working with EHC in 1987, after I met Diane in my fitness class. I brought a petition to stop the Navy Development in Florida Canyon that was going on at the time, which got Diane and I talking about my dedication and deep-rooted passion for public health issues. When she told me about what EHC was doing to help local, low-income communities, we clicked instantly. I have since been an active long-time supporter and board member.

Why did you choose to be part of EHC?

EHC fights for social and environmental justice. I was inspired by EHC’s work in communities exposed to pollution and chronic illness like asthma, heart problems, skin diseases and many other preventable illnesses.

What excites you most about being involved with EHC?

The most exciting thing is our companionship with and dedication to the Latino and southern San Diego communities. EHC works hard for the communities that need environmental justice most - such as National City, City Heights, Barrio Logan and Tijuana - and then reaches out to work with the community directly.

Share a milestone that stands out to you.

Wow. There are many inspirational milestones and achievements to mention, but the one that most of us can relate to is the first SALTA graduation. It was such a tremendous victory to see the promotora model in action. I was so glad to have had a role in developing it. And now, nearly 20 years later, over 2,000 residents have graduated. It’s truly astonishing.

To donate to EHC today, please click here.
To learn more about Bea, click here.

Thirty-five years ago, a small group of health, environmental and civil rights advocates created EHC. At that time, community members didn't know about the toxins in our neighborhoods, but we did know that people have the right to be informed and empowered to transform our communities.

Every day since 1980, EHC has fought for environmental justice. Our successes have only been possible because of you. Thank you for believing in us and helping us look forward to our next 35 years.

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Amelia Simpson 2

Amelia Simpson (far right) has worked as the border environmental justice campaign director and grant writer for EHC since 2002. We asked her about her 13-year-and-counting journey with the organization. This is what she had to say.

What was EHC like when you began?

I started as EHC's Border Environmental Justice Campaign director. Magdalena, now the director, was the community organizer at the time, and she did an amazing job. She organized our Tijuana Community Action Team - there were two groups at first that called themselves "los grupos de Nena [Magdalena]."

Soon after I came on, we rented a little house in Colonia Chilpancingo and turned it into a meeting space. They chose the new name Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental. Most of the same women are still active today along with many new women. Many of their daughters and sons are in the Jóvenes Pro Justicia Ambiental Youth Group organized by Aníbal.

They're the next generation of environmental justice activists in Tijuana.

What brought you to work with EHC?

Amelia Simpson

I was working as a Mexico specialist with Amnesty International when I heard about EHC's opening for a director in the border region. I saw EHC as an organization that defended human rights in Mexico, like Amnesty, and I was very happy to be hired.

What do you enjoy most about working with EHC?

The most exciting thing is having the opportunity to be with the community; the opportunity to get to know people, hear their stories and work together to make changes that truly matter.

Do any milestones stand out most to you?

The campaign to clean up the American-owned Metales y Derivados maquiladora assembly plant was a tremendous achievement for the community. Not only was the neighborhood protected at last from the dumping of 42,000 tons of toxic waste, but the effort also brought together supporters from both sides of the border, including community residents and government agencies. This was an unprecedented collaboration to address a serious human rights violation.

To donate to EHC today, please click here.