resident returns to minister to kids at MacLaren home
November 25, 2001
By Michelle Rester
Pat Mecado has scars and tattoos all over her body. She's led a
life of drugs and abuse and has been a victim of brutal crimes.
She's not your typical minister.
Over the years she has inspired thousands of people not to
let the past destroy them. Those getting a dose of her ministry
include students, inmates, former prisoners, and young people at
the MacLaren Children's Center in El Monte.
Some say Mecado Chaplain Mecado, that is has become a walking
example of hope.
The details of the first part of her life are stained with
childhood abuse and rape, years in torment, separation from her
siblings at MacLaren, teen-age drug use and gang violence,
promiscuity and children from three different fathers.
Now at 57, the wife, mother, grandmother and minister minces
no words when she speaks about how to make peace with a painful
past and "get on with it ."
"My message is 'Yes, you've been screwed, but people can
only screw you once," ' says Mecado, a tattoo of a rose
still on her wrist.
"That's what kids have to learn," Mecado says.
"Yes, somebody destroyed my life, but now they're gone and
if I allow those memories to live on, they'll still own my life.
I tell these kids who are acting out that they're screwing
Standing in a room in her home filled with walls peppered
with more than 60 service awards and pictures, Mecado talks
openly about her life and the people she's met.
Taking a break from her weekly inmate letter-writing group in
her kitchen and various interruptions from phone calls and
visits from people seeking counseling, she says she talks openly
to everyone about what her life has been like and how she wants
to help others.
"I try to get the kids at Mac to understand they have to
become their caretakers and they have to love themselves,"
Mecado said. "That parent, that wonderful family, that
childhood they'll always be wanting back it ain't gonna happen,
so they have to take care of themselves. It's the only
The chaplain gives her phone number to anybody and everybody.
For the last 20 years, Mecado and her husband have spent
nearly every day ministering to inmates throughout Los Angeles
County. They both became Christians and later chaplains he after
years in prison for theft and a heroin addiction.
The two live modestly in a rented home in Baldwin Park and
take no money for their daily volunteer work that takes them all
over the county to schools, churches and prisons. They live on
sparse donations from various religious and charity groups
including two anonymous Jewish men who have been helping them
for more than a dozen years. The couple also makes some money
For the last 18 years, Mecado has been going back to MacLaren
to volunteer. She's been a member of the MacLaren Children's
Center Volunteer Advisory Board since day one and now has about
300 volunteers who visit the El Monte center with her on a
"It's amazing how she's able to touch the hearts of
every type of person," said Sharon Nixon, during a recent
holiday show at MacLaren. Mecado and others brought doughnuts,
pies and other goodies for the children and employees, while
another volunteer group performed Christian-themed songs and
skits, rap and more contemporary music.
"She gives people hope," said Nixon, who has known
Mecado for seven years. "When she talks to people, women in
the prisons, especially, you see their eyes light up when
they've finally gotten her message, and it just brings you to
tears. I think it's because she's so real. She tells it like it
is and people respect that."
As the first child to step into MacLaren a home for abused
and abandoned children more than 40 years ago, Mecado says she
knows how difficult an environment the center can be for
Recent publicity about pending lawsuits and allegations of
child abuse at the center have bothered her immensely.
As for the allegations against MacLaren: No one's drinking
spoiled milk, there are no maggots in the oatmeal and it's
doubtful that children are seriously being abused by the staff,
says the chaplain.
"I'm an ex, ex, ex all things and I think I would
know," she says. "Plus, these children pour their
hearts out to my volunteers about what their parents have done
to them and everything that's wrong, and I bet if they were
being abused at MacLaren they'd tell one of us."
Mecado says she would do anything to help anyone, especially
children who have been abused. She is also hopeful more people
might become volunteers soon to give MacLaren children more
opportunities to turn their lives around.
"The bottom line is we know they can make it,"
Mecado says. "I just want to see somebody make it."
Michelle Rester can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2127,
or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.