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Father Joe Carroll Named Mr. San Diego 2012

Evening Edition

A longtime San Diego icon who jokingly says the Padres bear his name was given a special honor Thursday. Father Joe Carroll spent three decades nurturing a public service empire to feed, house and rehabilitate homeless people.

Like the "Swinging Friar" for the San Diego Padres, Carroll has been knocking the ball out of the park on behalf of people in need since 1982.

A huge baseball fan, Father Joe claims the Padres were named after him. Of course that's not true, but he does look a bit like the team's mascot.

Last year he stepped down from running Father Joe's Villages. It's a combination of several organizations providing meals, healthcare, housing, job training and childrens services. At age 70 and a wheelchair user because of diabetes, Father Joe is still a consumate fundraiser who says it's all about neighbors helping neighbors.

"So my goal in the 30 years has been these are neighbors who happen to be in trouble," he said. "When you have a neighbor who's sick, that's a neighbor. When you have a homeless person who's sick, that sounds fearful. So my goal has always been we're neighbors helping neighbors. That's all they are is our neighbors and we're the neighbors to them and we help them."

In 1987, he realized his vision of a "one-stop shop" approach to rehabilitation programs under one roof. It became a national model for delivering services to homeless people.

"Despite his New York accent, Father Joe is as much a part of San Diego as fish tacos and the Coronado bridge. Father Joe came to California in the 1960s with the goal of striking it rich, but instead he ended up committing himself to God and helping the less fortunate," Mayor Jerry Sanders said during a Rotary Club luncheon Thursday. "I'm honored to present him with the Rotary Club's 2012 Mr. San Diego award."

So what does Father Joe think about being named Mr. San Diego?

"There's no check with it," he said chuckling. "No, it's recognition particularly by the downtown community that we've made a difference."

That's Father Joe, said Fred Frye, former president of the San Diego Rotary Club.

"That's one of the reasons why Father Joe's Villages has been such a huge success in this community," Frye said. "He has raised our conscientiousness about their mission, he has gotten into our pockets, and he has done a tremendous job for the homeless and disadvantaged in our community."

Father Joe Carroll becomes the 60th person honored with the title of Mr. or Ms. San Diego since it started in 1952.

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