Executive Director and Founder of River City Youth Foundation
“The future looks bright for Dove Springs, the future looks bright for the children growing up in this community and for their children and their children’s children,” said Mona Gonzalez, the founding Executive Director of River City Youth Foundation (RCYF). The long-running nonprofit agency provides educational, technological and life enhancement programs for “at-promise” youth and their families living in the high-risk Dove Springs area of southeast Austin. Since the agency’s 1983 inception, Gonzalez has taken RCYF’s services to nearly every challenged community in Austin.
“We’ve increased resources to the Dove Springs community by helping to build a library, recreation center, a neighborhood pool, and most recently a health clinic,” she said. “We were able to mobilize the community so that we could actually get the federal, the state, the regional, local resources to get the municipal infrastructure in Dove Springs to what you see today.”
Gonzalez is nationally regarded for developing successful collaborative strategies that reclaim and revitalize neighborhoods. In 1999, RCYF was recognized with a National Keep America Beautiful Award for converting an abandoned site into what is now a thriving community youth and technology center in Dove Springs. At the agency’s Success Center, children and their families receive a number of services, including computer training, life skills preparation, mentoring, hot suppers and counseling. (Article continues after video.)
“I’ve learned that its better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” said Gonzalez. “And I think with that understanding and that attitude, you can expect great and beautiful things for the RCYF for Dove Springs and most especially for all of the children that we will reach with our special programs and all the special people who are committed to this mission.”
Gonzalez’s leadership and commitment to improve the quality of life for youth has been modeled locally and by other regional programs. She is credited with establishing RCYF in 1986 as the first youth outreach organization in Dove Springs. There, she also helped form the SCAN neighborhood organization in 1993, which grew to 11 neighborhood associations and more than 700 members. Another RCYF project, the Great Austin Graffiti Wipeout, is also recognized as the first citywide volunteer effort to tackle Austin’s gang-related graffiti problems. This five-year campaign spurred other city efforts nationwide.
Other notable roles for Gonzalez include a two-year stint in 1990 as co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Crime, Gangs and Drugs. In this position, she helped publish the Code Blue, a strategic plan for the 90s addressing gang violence in Austin and other high-risk issues. Some of Gonzalez’s former positions in the community include a City appointment to the Restructuring Task Force for the Community Action Network; board member of the Austin Child Guidance Center; chairperson of the Neighborhood Protection Action Committee of the Community Justice Council; and founding board member of the Pebble Project Child Abuse Program.
For her 30-years of work in Austin inspiring youth and developing programs that educate and protect them, Gonzalez received the 2006 Book of Golden Deeds Award, an honorary lifetime recognition bestowed by the Exchange Club of Austin, an 82-year-old service organization. In 2004, RCYF also received the Hispanic Community Service Award from Austin ISD.
Currently, Gonzalez serves on the boards of the Casey Family Program / Foundation, Austin Free-Net, the ACC Center for Community-Based & Nonprofit Organizations, and the KLRU Hispanic Advisory Board. She is a member of HABLA (Hispanic Advocates and Business Leadership of Austin) and is a
Fellow of Boston University School of Medicine’s Join Together Fellows National Substance Abuse Prevention Program.
“Everyday I think in terms of how many more kids are we going to be able to help,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a motivating factor for me to make an impact, to make a difference.”
Gonzalez has a Sociology degree from the University of Texas. She has received leadership awards from numerous organizations, including the Austin Police Department, the Dispute Resolution Center, the Community Justice Council, Keep America Beautiful, LULAC and numerous other Hispanic organizations.
Gonzalez has lived in Austin for more than 30 years. With over 25 years of experience working with at-risk youth and families, she also is a consultant, speaker and trainer on a local, statewide and national level.
“Seeing the smiles on kids keeps me motivated, realizing on a day to day basis, that what we do has an impact on these children’s lives. Whether it’s feeding them, whether it’s just giving them a hug, whether it’s creating a lesson plan for them so they can get good grades, so they can truly dream the dream and achieve the dream of getting a career some day, those little steps are the things that need to be done on a day to day basis. I see the need for that. I see how we can jump in there and help,” said Gonzalez.