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Victor Vela and Marta Moreno, both part of a group of 11 founders of the nonprofit, stand for a portrait outside El Comite de Longmont on Thursday. Aug. 14 has been declared Victor L. Vela and Marta “La Burris” Moreno Day. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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The founders of a Longmont nonprofit that has dedicated 40 years to social justice for immigrants were recognized by Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday in a proclamation.

In honor of their efforts to help start El Comité de Longmont, Aug. 14 has been declared Victor L. Vela and Marta “La Burris” Moreno Day. The founders also include, Richard Mendez, Tony Tafoya, Dan Benevidez, Mark Rodrigues, Richard Lathrop, Ester Blazon, Frida Garcia and Ed Navarro.

The proclamation, which was announced this week, says “the work of El Comité De Longmont resulted in sweeping reforms, including expanded training for incoming police officers, the adoption of a new Use of Force Policy, and the implementation of a Latino Advisory Council within the department.”

Donna Lovato, the nonprofit’s executive director, said to receive statewide recognition feels “amazing.”

“We are so proud of this organization,” Lovato said. “Here we are 40 years later — Friday is our 40th anniversary and we are still doing work for the community. I’m proud of the work that Marta and everyone else has done.”

El Comité de Longmont provides social services, education and advocacy to Latinos and non-Latinos. When people think of Aug. 14, Lovato said, she hopes they are reminded of how the nonprofit got its start.

The nonprofit was founded after two Longmont police officers fatally shot Jeff Cordova and Juan Garcia, both 21, on Aug. 14, 1980.

“What happened to those boys was so sad, but their death was not in vain,” Lovato said. “They are the story and the beginning of the story.”

Moreno served as the executive director for 10 years, before becoming lead case manager. Moreno said she lived by the mottos, “Without action there are no miracles” and “If you want peace, you work and fight for justice.”

Moreno retired from the nonprofit in early July, after almost 40 years of service to the organization. However, she said her work isn’t done.

“Retirement is a word,” Moreno said. “I will continue doing the job that I have been doing,” adding that many people know her contact information and continue to reach out to her for support.

Vela was El Comité de Longmont’s first board president. He served the nonprofit for six months. Vela’s then employer, Western Cutlery, which is no longer in business, told him he had to choose between his job or working for the nonprofit. With a family to feed, Vela said he had to leave behind his role with El Comité de Longmont. Vela said he encouraged El Comité de Longmont’s leaders to carry on with their mission. To see it being recognized 40 years later, shows that they took his message to heart, he said.

“I didn’t do it for recognition,” Vela said. “It’s a surprise. I’m honored. I really am.”

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Lovato said the El Comité de Longmont can’t celebrate with a large gathering, but he hopes to do so when it is safe.

“We will celebrate when the time is right,” Lovato said. “We will celebrate everything El Comité started as and has become.”

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