Local gang fighter now fighting poor health

A local Latino community activist and former Paso Robles school board member who helped quash the rise of deadly gang violence in the county has suffered a stroke.

Joe Quiroz, who served 31 years as a program manager and gang specialist with the California Youth Authority, suffered a stroke in December, said Rich Benitez, a family friend.

Quiroz, 63, was hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center, and he’s currently receiving treatment in a rehabilitation facility in Los Altos before his first appointment with a neurologist.

Friends and family have started a donation fund and are planning a fundraiser to help cover the costs the Quiroz family has accumulated from weekly commutes to the Bay Area and medical expenses.

Seven years ago, Quiroz fully recovered from intestinal surgeries that kept him hospitalized for more than a year — during which time he kept his seat on the school board and continued to participate in decision-making remotely by phone.

“It’s hard to believe this after all he’s been through,” said Benitez, a longtime friend who has worked with Quiroz on several community-based projects, including programs run through the Latino Outreach Council and Vision Unida organization that help promote community leadership amongst Latinos.

Benitez said Quiroz has started to eat liquid food and can feed himself, but he still does not have any movement in his left arm and leg.

“Joe is responding with few words or a smile, but he is still not conversing,” Benitez said.

During the 1980s, when graffiti and a handful of gang-related homicides hit the North County, police sought Quiroz’s advice because he worked with gang-member wards at the youth facility.

“Joe provided in-service training to officers and did community outreach,” said former Paso Robles police Chief Dennis Cassidy in 2005. “We really weren’t familiar with gangs, but he knew how to recognize problems.

Gangs still exist here, but we’re now quicker to identify gang problems, and we have more tools to reduce crime.”

Quiroz worked with the Paso Robles Police Department and city government on fighting the gang problem and gave talks to the community in English and Spanish.

Quiroz’s goal, he said, was to catch kids when they’re young and warn them to stay away from gangs.

For further information or questions about the donation efforts, call Benitez at 238-2735.

Fundraising meeting

A meeting has been scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the Paso Robles Public Schools district administration building at 800 Niblick Road to plan a fundraising event for Paso Robles resident Joe Quiroz, who recently suffered a stroke. Also, donations can be made to the Joe Quiroz Donation Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank with account number 5841513293.