Leandro Soto passed away last week in Marin at the age of 89. Though his passing attracted little attention in California’s media, Lee was an important figure in California’s community job training world. His career started in California’s tumultuous job training of the 1960s and continued to the more business-oriented training model of the 1990s and today.

Lee, as he was widely known, was born in Los Angeles in 1921. Lee often referred to the variety of jobs he held growing up in the California of the 1920s and 1930s, including as a shoe shiner and as a farm worker in the San Joaquin Valley. Lee graduated from Fresno State and worked for a time as a newspaperman for a series of small newspapers.

He was in his forties before he became involved in job training, starting as a job developer with the Urban League. On May 13, 1965, Lee, Herman Gallegos and James McAllister founded the Organization for Business, Education and Community Advancement in San Francisco’s Mission District, initially as a social services/job training agency for the Mission’s growing Latino population. The agency’s name was changed in 1967 to Arriba Juntos (Upward Together).

The mid 1960s was a time when community job training agencies were arising throughout California, due both to the influx of funding from the Manpower Development Training Act (MDTA), and the influx of even greater funding from the Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson. The novelist Tom Wolfe spent time in San Francisco during this Great Society era, capturing the anti-poverty hustles, posing and mau-mauing that followed this new federal money, in his 1970 book, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.

Lee does not appear in this book, and he shouldn’t: the mau-mauing and the hustling, was not part of Lee’s style. Indeed, while Arriba Juntos was rooted in the Latino community, it eschewed the identity politics of the 1960s, and from the start reached out to all races. It aimed to integrate Latino immigrants and others into the market job structure.

Arriba Juntos grew through the 1970s with Model Cities funding and after funding from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). It was in 1979 that I met Lee, introduced by our mutual friend, Bill Russell-Shapiro. Lee always encouraged new generations of job training practitioners and I spent several six months at Arriba Juntos, learning the mechanics of community job training. At the time Arriba Juntos had a staff of 34 and budget of nearly $1 million and operated a range of employment-based English language training classes, licensed vocational nurse classes, clerical and bank teller classes.

Arriba Juntos continued as a main community job training agency of San Francisco through the 1980s and 1990s, under Lee’s leadership. As it matured, it built its ties with the major health care employers, financial services employers, and public utility employers in San Francisco and the Bay Area. After many years of being headquartered at its cross-roads location of 16th and Mission, Arriba Juntos moved into its own building down the street on Mission, next to the Armory near 14th (below).

There is much more I could write about Lee. For now, my hope is that readers will google Lee and learn more about his history and the rich history of Arriba Juntos in the evolution of California’s community job training.