By Jon O’Neil,
Being an Army paratrooper and jumping out of planes every day is a hard job to top. But Tampa Attorney Danny Alvarez has managed to do it, even though he’s now behind a desk instead of underneath a parachute. The leap was not a hard one once he found the right motivation: helping immigrants find their way to a better life.
“Ever since I was in the Army, I always searched for a sense of purpose like I had when I wore the uniform,” said Alvarez, a former Infantry Captain and founder of the Alvarez Legal Group. “For years, being an attorney never satisfied that need until the first time I held someone’s hand as they cried begging me to help them escape the horrors of their country. You want motivation? Imagine if you don’t do your job right and someone who depends on you is sent back to be persecuted, imprisoned or worse, harmed or killed. We can’t fail at what we do here.”
But it’s not like the 40-year-old Alvarez has been sitting around waiting for a greater purpose to magically find him. A look at his social media accounts or talking with his long-time friends reveals quite a different story. Alvarez has been a man on mission since he was young, seemingly bent on fixing the world by himself, said Jeff Kosarich, who is one of Alvarez’ oldest friends.
“I swear there are three of him and I honestly do not know when he finds the time to actually work to earn a living,” said Kosarich. “Between the non-profits he leads, teaching at the university level, the volunteer work he participates in and the boards he has been appointed to, I just do not know how he does it.”
In 2010, Alvarez he opened his firm in West Tampa, a historically Latin community, to be closer to his core client base of Spanish speakers. It surprises many people that he has only been in the area since 2003 because of his record of impacting the community and his visibility within it.
Since opening his doors, Alvarez helped found an Autism non-profit, is president of the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council, was appointed to the Hillsborough County Children’s Service’s Advisory Board and to the County Charter Review Board.
In 2012, the Alvarez Legal Group was named the Small Business of the Year by the precursor to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay. Coincidentally, Alvarez was recently elected a director of the Hispanic Chamber’s Board. This past year, Gov. Rick Scott called on him to lead Hispanic outreach efforts in the area for his successful re-election campaign and presidential hopefuls are already courting.
For Alvarez, going in 50 directions at once seems to work. In fact, he thrives on it.
“It is hard to say no when you think you can make a difference. It’s not about racking up titles to boost a resume though. Anyone can do that,” he said. “It is about making an impact and helping to make the lives of those around you better. If you do not accomplish that at least once a day, you have to really ask yourself what are you doing here?”
While Alvarez’ legal practice continues to concentrate on personal injury, bankruptcy and business law, he says being the son of immigrants pushed him to help those who have come to America looking for the same opportunity his family did.
So, in addition to his private practice, he’s joined forces with Javier Torres, a local Hispanic community leader and Venezuelan attorney, to make access to the immigration process affordable and available to all no, matter their economic background.
Together, they run The Migrants Foundation, a 501c(3) charitable non-profit, that currently offers reduced priced immigration services for those in need. Torres said eventually they will be able to offer free services, once they secure the grants they are applying for.
“As an immigrant myself, I had first hand knowledge about how difficult it is to navigate the system here. With my experience running a similar immigration program for over eight years and Danny’s drive to help the Hispanic community, it is our expectation that those that we help will not have to go through the same thing,” said Torres, who immigrated to America to escape political persecution in his own homeland. “Danny has been instrumental in driving this organization and it’s mission to the next level.”
Alvarez was born in Miami but raised in Houston, Texas, until he was 12. Upon returning to Florida in 1986, he said it was hard to balance the life he lived as a Texan with the Cuban culture he became immersed in.
But his Cuban roots helped define him, and were an integral part for the foundation of his deep love for the United States and all it offers. The emergence of other young Cubans who wanted to make a difference also helped form the basis for his future mission – and created some interesting history.
In the late 1990’s, Alvarez’s grandfather, Raul Garcia, took a liking to a struggling young Hispanic politician in Miami. Garcia gathered supporters, drove people to vote and helped open doors for the young upstart simply because he saw a vision of freedom in the Cuban American. That young man was Marco Rubio.
These days, Alvarez is affectionately known among his many friends and admirers as a Cuban cowboy of sorts because he combines Hispanic passion and energy with the tried and true American Cowboy attributes of freedom, independence, drive and toughness.
He scorns the lawyer stereotypes, exchanging fancy suits and luxury cars for his signature Wrangler jeans and his 200,000 plus mile diesel 4×4. On any given day, you can probably find him at one of West Tampa’s coffee shops instead of a higher end Del Frisco’s or Malio’s Steak House.
“I think of myself as street lawyer – nothing fancy,” he said. “Being a lawyer is privilege but I am just a regular guy who has been given a chance to do something good for others. If it helps open doors and solve someone’s issue because they think an attorney is something special, then I’ll play the part.”
For many, the part Alvarez plays is huge. Bobby Starks, a former University of Tampa student who took Alvarez’ business law class, said his instructor set a lasting example.
“Danny is a leader I would like to strive to be,” Starks said. “He is truly dedicated to everything he does and has enough motivation to fuel a rocket ship. I am lucky to have taken his business law class and…I couldn’t be happier to have him as a mentor.”
After graduation, Starks, a combat veteran, used what he learned in Alvarez’ class to start M.A.D. House, LLC, a veteran’s employment recruiting company based in Tampa. Alvarez serves on its advisory board.
“His dedication to making the community better is a true inspiration,” said Starks.
Jon Oneill is an independent reporter who has 20 years of professional newspaper and television production experience. He wrote this article as a special assignment for Latin Times Magazine.