The California Wellness Foundation honors community leaders each year for their efforts to prevent violence and promote peace, part of the annual California Peace Prize awards. And this year, the man known as “Uncle Ray” to many youth in the Mission is taking home the honor.

Ray Balberan has been helping troubled kids in San Francisco’s Mission District for more than three decades, providing advocacy and mentorship during that time. He has spent time as a juvenile court advocate case manager and as as the violence prevention outreach program director at Mission Neighborhood Centers, a non-profit focused on providing safety net services for low-income families. Currently, he consults for Arriba Juntos‘ Northwest Community Response Network, which coordinates street outreach, health, re-entry and other service for San Francisco youth and families, focusing mainly on the Mission District along with working with other community organizations.

“I see the community like a university network with wrap-around services for youth. We are using the network to develop a strategy plan for young people,” Balberan said. “We are trying to teach them that they have control of their life and that we have a plan for them.”

Balberan said that for many of the kids that he works with, there is not just a simple solution to getting them back on the right path.

“Sometimes it’s just getting them to go to school for a full week. We try to provide alternatives for them rather than hanging out on the streets,” he said. “It might even be just checking in with them to make sure they get home okay. A lot of the kids end up in prison and that’s not the answer.”

”Uncle Ray” said he knows that a lot of the preventive measures have to start in the community, something that has proved difficult as the economy has soured and the need is greater than ever before.

“I have never had a time without a full caseload. We are reaching out to kids with more programs and there are more kids using those programs,” he said. “Like all non-profits, we have faced cutbacks. We need the federal government to provide more for preventative services.”

Balberan said he is honored to be awarded the $25,000 California Peace Prize (a ceremony will be held in San Francisco on Thursday, November 17) and wants to continue his work, helping save lives and prevent violence within the community.