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The Inland Empire Latino Lawyers Association, Inc. honored its volunteers at a dinner Dec. 7. Special awards were given to Jesse Melgar, Ofelia Valdez Yeager and the Inland Counties Legal Services.

The organization provides free legal services to low-income residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Melgar started the Cultivating Inland Empire Latino Opportunity (CIELO) Fund, a philanthropy organization, in 2022. He has raised $2 million for the fund, and donated $250,000 to organizations and $125,000 in scholarships, he said. He also helped support KVCR’s new IE Latino Voices program.

“We’ve made incredible gains in political representation, with elected politicians like Jose (Medina) and others, we made great gains in arts, like the Cheech (Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture) and other places, in philanthropy not so much. So a lot of our organizations who are Latino-led have not had that support,” Melgar said.

Melgar previously worked as the director of the California Latino Caucus, and on California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s staff, when Lara served in the California Assembly.

Melgar worked as Sen. Alex Padilla’s communications director, and then worked with Gov. Gavin Newsom as the press secretary and media director for the California Volunteer Commission.

ICLS provided legal and structural help to IELLA, said IELLA executive director Sylvia Quistorf.

“Although we are no longer under contract with ICLS, they have come out to help me in every imaginable way. I say that because if I was having technical problems with the computer, they sent over their IT person. If I have questions, Tori (Praul, director of community engagement) was always there,” said Quistorf

“We always want to work toward that greater goal: access to justice for everyone,” said ICLS executive director Tess Solorzano.

Medina accepted the award provided for Valdez Yeager, a long-time donor to and supporter of IELLA and the president of Latino Network.

“I grew up in a very normal family, with limited resources. Yet my parents instilled a sense of responsibility to share whatever we had with others. You didn’t have to have a lot of money or resources, but you can always share a little of what you have to help others,” said Medina, reading a statement from Valdez Yeager.

The statement continued to say that IELLA does a lot with a little, and encouraged people to support the organization with funds.

IELLA also handed out Wiley Certificates, named after former California Supreme Court Justice Wiley Manuel, to attorneys who donated a large amount of their time to the organization. Pablo Ramirez, Jonathan Mendoza, Carlos Rodrigo Flores, Ruby Addison, Laura Robles and René Pimental were all honored with Wiley Certificates.

Attorneys have been volunteering with IELLA since 1978. 

The event was held at the Cesar E. Chavez Community Center in Riverside. In-N-Out served fresh burgers out of their food truck, and diners bid on silent auction baskets including a Bordeaux wine basket and an Italian food feast.


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