Pepperdine University Reflects on 30th Anniversary of Malibu Community Labor Exchange
Since opening its doors in August 1993, the Malibu Community Labor Exchange has established itself as a safe haven for day laborers. While not an employment agency, the nonprofit organization acts as a neutral and convenient meeting site for both workers and prospective employers, helping both groups ensure favorable working opportunities and environments. Additionally, the Labor Exchange helps to facilitate transportation to job sites and provides English language courses and resume building for the workers with the aid of volunteers. Today, the organization is considered one of the oldest hiring sites for day laborers in California and has been a service partner with Pepperdine University for many years.
“I believe the first Pepperdine connection came when Ken and Libby Perrin, members of the University Church of Christ, became board members sometime in the early 2000s,” shares Al Sturgeon (JD '11), associate dean for student life and spiritual development and member of the Malibu Community Labor Exchange’s board of directors. “They initiated ‘Sack Lunch Saturday,’ providing lunches for the workers each weekend, which is how I initially became involved, and it has been wonderful to see the many beautiful directions the relationship has grown since that initial connection.”
This past August, the Labor Exchange celebrated its 30th anniversary and invited workers and their families, friends, community partners, and supporters to celebrate and honor the generations of laborers who made the organization's success possible. The celebration also initiated a campaign to raise funds for the Labor Exchange’s director, Oscar Mondragón, to ensure wage security as he continues to help laborers and the Malibu community alike. Sturgeon credits Mondragón, who worked with civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez, as well as his faith, for drawing him closer to the Malibu Community Labor Exchange and describes the organization as “a rare and special place set aside in a famously wealthy city for those in deep poverty to gather in safety and hope and find support.”
Current Seaver College student Maria Fe Saito, a board member and coordinator of volunteers at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, immigrated to the United States from Peru to attend Pepperdine and can relate to the complexity of immersing yourself in a new home and culture and the value of sanctuary to people in need. “The energy you feel there is completely selfless,” she says. “It's more than a place where someone can find work opportunities. It's a place where they can feel like they're with family and where they can be helped and protected without fear of being judged or turned away.”
While Saito is set to graduate soon, she hopes to stay connected with the Labor Exchange for years to come. ”It's lovely to see the impact your efforts can have and be able to plant a seed of positivity,” she says. “At the Labor Exchange, you not only germinate a seed, but you also see your work take root in real time, which helps to know the work accomplished something.”
Additionally, the Malibu Community Labor Exchange is an opportunity for volunteers to not only help those that are struggling, but also face a reality that is much different from their own. For Sturgeon and the many members of the Pepperdine community that donate their time at the center, this is a calling inspired by their Christian faith.
“It sees human needs and provides a supportive place to address those needs,” he says, “but for many, including myself, it provides a place that disturbs our comfortable, sanitized lives and asks us to see our fellow human beings. Jesus told a story about a rich man that never recognized the human being begging for crumbs outside of his gates, and in Malibu we are fortunate to have the embodiment of that challenging story—human beings sitting outside our gates hoping for work. The Labor Exchange asks if we will see them.”
If interested in getting involved with the Malibu Community Labor Exchange or other local service opportunities, visit the Hub for Spiritual website.