It was Christmas and Jerry Ruiz’s mother had $10 to spend on presents for her children. It was a paltry sum for any mom tasked with playing Santa Claus but, in the case of Ruiz’ mother, it bordered on the impossible.
She and her husband had nine children.
“Although the year was 1966, I don’t know how she did it but she made that money stretch,” said Ruiz, now 56 and a partner in the 55-attorney AlvaradoSmith law firm in Los Angeles. “My memory of growing up was that I didn’t miss anything.”
That same spirit of possibility and determination seems to run through Ruiz, a man who has made his life’s mission not only to aid underserved neighborhoods but to help kids from those communities go to college.
“I feel the need to give back,” he said.
Born to parents who never made it past ninth grade, Ruiz spent his formative years in Lemon Cove in Tulare County, a farming town with 181 residents, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains along the eastern border of California's Central Valley. “In my memories growing up, there were just two kinds of people – Anglos and Latinos – and everybody worked in a job related to the citrus industry,” he said.
UC Santa Cruz turned that worldview upside down.
Recruited to UCSC by Roberto Rubalcava, then-director of the Educational Opportunity Program, Ruiz met people from all walks of life and nationalities. He became active in student affairs, helping to organize a Hispanic-themed dorm and became part of the UC-systemwide Chicano Steering Committee. His four brothers — Rick, Edward, Freddy and Jim — followed him to UCSC.
By the time Ruiz graduated from Crown College in 1977 with a degree in economics, he knew he wanted to become an attorney and help families like his own. Soon, he was working with the California Legislature, helping draft school-finance legislation and author legal opinions.
That job was followed by tenure as a private attorney and later at Wells Fargo Bank, where his focus was on helping small Latino-owned business and also doing outreach to low- and moderate-income communities. He aided in the construction of low-income rentals and helped support small business with loans. His current work at the downtown Los Angeles law firm of AlvaradoSmith includes aiding the development of health-care clinics in poor neighborhoods.
Ruiz also is working to get more underserved young people into college. He not only mentors individuals but also regularly attends the campus’ Multicultural Career Conference and is president of UCSC’s Alumni Council, which helps support scholarships for deserving students.
“UCSC was a life-changing experience,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the education I got there.”