It certainly has been a time-consuming commitment. In fact, Ray Rangwala, owner of Esteem Cleaners in Pasadena, CA, estimates that he’s made special trips to Mexico “about 70 or 80 times” in the past 20 years, but it’s all been worth it for something he calls “the best thing that has ever
happened to my life.”
He travels to a small village near Ensenada, Mexico, in Baja wine country between four and six times a year to assist those who live at the Estado 29 orphanage. He helps provide money and food to improve the quality of life for those whose suffered the early life experience of abandonment.
Rangwala is grateful for the support his efforts have received from several industry members cleaners.
“Jackie Smith from Henderson Insurance Agency and Bobby Patel of Kona Cleaners have come to the orphanage a few times and spent weekends with all their families,” he said. “They have helped with buying essentials.” For his November trip, Gordon Shaw of Hangers Cleaners in San Diego, David Suber of Perfect Cleaners in Los Angeles and Bill Odorizzi of Sankosha helped with financial support. “There is a constant need,” he explained. “Over the years — it used to be a crappy old place. Now, it’s really nice.”
Estado 29 currently has approximately 70 children residents, but at times that number has exceeded 100. It was originally founded back in 1957.
“At one time Mexico had 28 states. The founder named the orphanage Estado 29, meaning for it to be always welcome to children,” Rangwala said.
He found out about it as a member of the Rotary Club and has been visiting regularly and raising money for it ever since. He recently made the trip in November, though returning home was a bit of a problem. “It took me almost five hours to go across the border and I hated that because you’re stuck in
traffic breathing gasoline fumes,” he noted. Fortunately, that was hardly a typical trip. According to Rangwala, the weekend excursions
typically begin on a Saturday morning at 6 a.m. when he (accompanied with others, including his family) drives to the orphanage. The trip usually takes about five hours one-way. “We spend the whole day Saturday hanging out with the kids and we go to the local grocery store over there and buy vegetables and meat — food and groceries and stuff. Then we fill up their pantry,” he added. “We can sleep there [at the orphanage] when we go. We come back on Sunday afternoon.”
The donations mean a lot to the children, but Rangwala also makes a concerted effort to give them friendship and something else they might be lacking.
“The one thing about orphans is the kids don’t have parents and they need a father figure, somebody who they can talk to about what they can do in life after they get old enough where they’re about to leave the orphanage,” he emphasized. As an example, he mentioned Carlos, a boy who he had known close to 15 years through his trips to Estado 29. “He would say, ‘Ray, give me money for this or that’ — for a cell phone or whatever,” Rangwala
laughed. So, I kept giving it to him over the years because he was a nice kid. Then, when he was like 17, I told him: ‘It’s time to fly away and support the orphanage because now it’s time to leave. You’re a man now.’ “So, a few months later the kid got himself a job. Now, he’s a supervisor of a 24-hour plant in
Mexicali that fixes all of the broken cell phones and iPhones from the American market. He’s the foreman and the company is about to give him a promotion and they are going to pay for his education to go to college.” If Rangwala has anything to say about it, a lot more children at Estado 29 will have the opportunity for a college education in the near future, as well.
“About six months ago, we started a new non-profit organization, a 501(c)(3) called the 3 Amigos Orphanage Foundation,” he noted. “Now, we’re trying to do a solar project because the utility bills are about $1,200 a month. So, what we’re trying to do is go solar with the orphanage,
about $44,000 worth of money needs to be raised so that we can build solar panels where the utility bills will be free. With the money we save, we can send about four or five kids — depending on how much we save — and send them to college annually.” Now, Rangwala and the Rotary Club members have the ability to accept public funding on a much bigger level; before, they relied solely on fundraising through the Rotary Club and hosting events at
It’s a lot of effort, but Rangwala, who is on the board of directors for the California Cleaners Association in addition to owning his dry cleaning business in Pasadena, is no stranger to charity efforts.
About ten years ago, he served as a translator and a photojournalist for a humanitarian mission to a village near Bangalore, India, when a team of about 20 doctors, nurses and emergency room personnel donated their services to perform approximately 125 cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries
on children who otherwise could not afford it. Rangwala has also collected about 20,000 pounds of warm winter garments during 16 years of
Coats for Kids’ drives that he has overseen. Still, Estado 29 is his favorite charity; it will always hold a special place in his heart.
“My daughter is also adopted, so I started taking her to this orphanage to see what things are like there,” he explained. “My daughter has been coming to that same orphanage since she was three years old. Now, she’s 21.”
For more information on the 3 Amigos Orphanage Foundation, or to donate to help the children of Estado 29, visit the organization’s website at www.3aof.org.
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