When one finds their passion in life, it is quite a gift. For St. Martin de Porres parishioner Joe Baldo, he uses these passions to live life to its fullest, helping others along the way.
Baldo was born into a devout Catholic family in the western San Gabriel Valley city of Monterey Park. His family attended St. Stephen Martyr Church and he graduated from the parish school and then went onto Loyola High School, in Los Angeles.
While growing up, Baldo’s future was planned. His family owned a meat packing business which was founded in Italy, moved to New York and then to East LA in the early 1940s. Baldo started working there during sixth grade and eventually learned all phases of the business. His father and grandfather were preparing him for that day when he would take over.
After high school, Baldo enrolled at Loyola Marymount University. There he discovered his passion for television and film production. At the time of graduation, he informed his father and grandfather that he wanted to pursue a career in this field and not be a part of the family business.
“My dad was a great man, always loving and understanding,” Baldo said. “He told me to follow my passion.”
A year later, in 1979, Baldo founded Baldo Productions Inc. From its home office in the Los Angeles area, the company quickly became a success. So successful that he and his wife Barbara expanded to a second location in Newport Beach in 1986. This prompted Joe and Barbara and their two children to also move south to Yorba Linda.
JOE BALDO IS PICTURED WITH CHILDREN IN HIGHER GROUND’S ON SITE GARDEN. FOOD GROWN HERE IS USED FOR HG’S MANY HEALTH AND WELLNESS PROGRAMS AND GIVEN TO FAMILIES IN NEED. COURTESY PHOTO
The Baldos quickly became involved in various ministries when they joined St. Martin de Porres parish in Yorba Linda.
Years later, after their children had both graduated from LMU, Joe and Barbara felt some of the financial burden come off their shoulders and devoted even more time to serve others. In 2008, after 30 years in business, Baldo sold his production company and devoted his life to full-time volunteering and mentoring.
At a soup kitchen one afternoon, Baldo had a conversation with a homeless man. The gentleman told him he should go to a prison and talk with inmates.
Shortly thereafter, Baldo signed-up for what was then called Catholic Detention Ministry, now known as Restorative Justice Ministry.
That ministry placed Baldo in the Orange County Juvenile Hall, where he assisted incarcerated youth. Within a few months, he was there up to seven days a week and for almost three years, experienced the comings and goings of the teen inmates, serving their time, being released, only to be arrested again.
In 2010, Baldo transitioned from engaging the youth in juvenile hall to welcoming them upon their release, continuing to support them as they reintegrated back into society.
“Sometimes I have experienced God open a door and gently guide me through, but other times it seems He’s blown doors down and the backdraft propelled me through with major force,” he said.
Within a few months, he had hundreds of youths reaching to ask for assistance navigating away from the pitfalls that led to their multiple incarcerations.
Baldo recruited help in fellow church members, baseball buddies and work associates to engage large groups of teens and adolescents in public parks in five orange county cities.
In late 2012, the city of Anaheim requested that Baldo concentrate solely on engaging the youth of Anaheim full time. Initially Baldo declined, but when a second offer included selecting a park in Anaheim to permanently house his vision, he accepted the generous offer.
In 2012, Lincoln Park was selected to become the home for Baldo’s nonprofit called Higher Ground Youth & Family Services (HG).
“Higher Ground is a mentoring machine,” he said.
The facility is made up of 12 modular buildings including a creative learning center, kitchen, mental wellness center, music studio, video production and postproduction studio, as well as a STEM lab (for science, technology, engineering and math) and office space for staff, interns, field study students and volunteers. There is even a clubhouse and locker room to facilitate uniform and equipment storage for HG run athletic teams and leagues, furnished by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Today, HG in Anaheim has over 200 registered youth with approximately 150 being engaged on any given day. A similar program is functioning at HG’s recently opened second location within Fullerton elementary schools.
The major goal for HG is to help children with negative role models and help them create positive roles for themselves. The children who attend HG receive free snacks every afternoon and twice a week, hot dinners are served for the children and their families. Homework assistance, new skill development, the opportunity to have sports programs that could not under normal circumstances be afforded by the families are just a few more of the offerings from HG.
Services provided include multiple afterschool programs in Anaheim and Fullerton, a full-scale summer camp, a Teens2Work program that hires teens from underserved communities, a mental health and wellness program with counseling available and a human trafficking prevention program.
Baldo has never taken a salary and has a large yearly budget that is only partially offset with grants.
“The money to fund HG comes from God,” said Baldo, sometimes “begging for assistance” wherever he can.
He receives key support from Chapman University, CSUF, UCI, CSULB, BIOLA and Concordia University.
Volunteering and mentoring support also comes from St. Martin de Porres parishioners, who help with a multitude of tasks. Barbara Baldo helps with the day-to-day programming, including all special events and fundraisers.
Joe Baldo has had that rare experience of finding his passion twice in his lifetime. From starting and operating his successful Baldo Productions to founding Higher Ground.
“Life has been a spectacular gift, and HG is the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae” he said.
Higher Ground is having its first ever Open House on Saturday, March 25. All are welcome. To learn more, donate or volunteer, email [email protected].