Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Steven Levy Cruz, Application Specialist
Oct 18, 2019 Antonio Gonzalez
Meet Steven Levy Cruz! He was born at Cedars-Sinai more than 30 years ago—now he is working to improve lives here and around the globe.
As a member of the Enterprise Information Services team, Steven strives to advance communication technology and create a better patient experience with the Cedars-Sinai mobile app.
"I'm one person's decision away from a radically different lifestyle."
In his free time, he runs a nonprofit that helps children in Central America stay in school and out of gangs through soccer academies—and he was recently recognized by Major League Soccer for his contributions.
We caught up with Steven to learn more about his work at Cedars-Sinai and beyond.
How did you end up at Cedars-Sinai?
Steven Levy Cruz: I grew up in South LA and earned a bachelor's degree in human biology at USC.
Shortly before graduating, there was a career fair on campus. I recognized the name Cedars-Sinai and approached the table. And so here I am.
Why do you always go by your full name?
SLC: My great grandfather was a Palestinian Jew who immigrated to Central America in the early 1900s. His last name was Levy.
When he got to El Salvador, he had to change it because Jews were persecuted and classified a certain way. Every male on my side of the family uses the middle name Levy to pay homage to our heritage.
How did your upbringing inspire you to help kids in El Salvador?
SLC: My parents sent me to El Salvador every summer to experience what life is like as a Central American child and to stay close to my roots.
The disparity between my friends in this impoverished community in El Salvador and my teammates here in LA was so stark.
It left an impression on me. I remember asking, "Why is the world like this?"
Every day I say "I'm one person's decision away from a radically different lifestyle." I could be those kids.
How did this idea evolve into what your nonprofit is now?
SLC: I work in technology, in a space where you understand the power of the internet, of networking and applications.
I built a Facebook group, connecting people with shoddy internet access in El Salvador to people in Los Angeles who are from those communities. We started collaborating on projects to make the community back in El Salvador safer and better.
"We are starting a domestic program in 2020 for children who have been released from immigration detention centers but are having a hard time integrating to American life."
What was the turning point in the organization’s success?
SLC: In 2017, we started a crowd-funding page to collect money and new and lightly worn soccer equipment for a school in Canton Los Amates, El Salvador.
The walls still have bullet holes from the civil war and these kids played soccer with the inside of a ball—the outside of it was gone—and would go crazy for it during recess.
I was able to capture the moment when we went to the school and presented balls and sports equipment to the children. I wanted to let the people who donated see the result of their contributions. And the images of those happy kids made our donations take off.
We became a registered nonprofit, the Academia de Futbol Juvenil Amatence, and won Major League Soccer's Community MVP Award. I was presented with a $25,000 check for our foundation during the MLS All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida, which just means everything to us.
What's happening with the foundation now?
SLC: With the help of more grantors, we're able to continue developing sustainable models in the locations that we have—2 in El Salvador and 1 in Guatemala. Once we have sustainable models there, hopefully we can move into Honduras and southern Mexico.
We are also starting a domestic program in 2020 for children who have been released from immigration detention centers but are having a hard time integrating to American life.
What has the reaction been like at Cedars-Sinai since your foundation won the award?
SLC: Everyone has been so supportive.
I think what this has shown my colleagues is that we all have a life outside of Cedars-Sinai, and we're all connected here because we work together to maintain this health system. But people are doing amazing things outside of work, too.
I've received so many positive emails from people I didn't know and talked to everyone from nurses to janitors to shuttle drivers.
It's a bit surreal to have so many people recognize me in and outside of work. I'm like a little mini-celebrity, and I never expected that. I'm actually a really reserved person.
The support of my Cedars-Sinai community and family has been simply amazing.