People of Willmar – Israel Mireles

A pick-up with a camper perched on it’s back traveled down the road.  It was filled with kids laughing and jumping on the makeshift bed, except for one, who was peering out the window at the world as it went by.  That little boy’s name was Israel.

Israel was Born in 1977, in Brownsville, TX.  Generations of his family traveled together as migrant workers.  They went where the work was; from the Sugar Beet fields of the North in the Summer to the fruit and cotton fields of the south in the winter.  His work ethic was deeply ingrained in him during that time.

In 1986 Israel’s mother put all the kids in the car and drove away.  She was escaping a marriage filled with alcoholism and abuse and she didn’t go back.  She forged ahead and made a life for her children.  Their initial stop was in the south side of Chicago and when a cousin said that there was sugar beet work available in Willmar, MN, she jumped at the opportunity.  They arrived in Willmar in 1987. Experiencing the calm and peacefulness of life in Willmar compared to Chicago’s south side, she decided to stay and raise her family here.

They first lived at Elm Lane, which was in the area across from the current Holiday Inn.  She eventually moved her family to a nice house in Willmar.  Israel received his education in the Willmar Public School system and then went on to college for Business and Fashion Business.  He experienced racism, but developed a way to shake it off and not absorb it.  The diversity in Willmar was a welcomed and appreciated component for Israel.  He loved having a diverse group of friends growing up, along with the way education is valued in Willmar.

He strayed in his 20’s and got into some trouble, but learned his lesson and recognizes that it helped change him into the person he is now.  Eventually, Israel found himself in a custody battle for his daughter, Abella.  In Minneapolis at the time, he had worked his way up into a great paying job and lived in a nice house.  But, his daughter was in Willmar.  As it became clear that he wouldn’t get to see her as often as he liked if he lived in another city, he decided to make a change.  He left it all behind and picked his daughter over everything.  He credits his daughter’s mother, Denise, for being willing to work with him and come to a custody solution.  Being able to have his daughter in his life brought him peace.

A hobby and artistic passion of Israel’s was leather work and he found himself creating stitched by hand luxury leather pieces.  Friends encouraged him to make a business out of it.  He decided to go for it in 2014 and set it off with a launch party to get exposure.  That launch snowballed into a huge event.  Community businesses signed on and sponsors stepped up.  People of all races and ages were being brought together.  The event morphed into a Red Carpet Fashion Show with a Business Expo and it had a charitable component.

Israel found he had a passion and skill for far more than leatherwork.  In the process of event planning he felt fueled, excited, and inspired as he brought the community together for good.  He found that it encompassed everything he loved.  The fashion show and Red Carpet element provided an outlet for his creativity.  The charitable component fueled his desire to give back, the Business Expo provided him exposure along the thrill of helping lift up and bring together area business people.

The feedback was encouraging.  He heard loud and clear that those who benefited wanted him to keep doing this. He earned a reputation for being a supporter of local business people and someone who brings together all races and generations.  He notes that he loves this community and wants to stay here for the rest of his life, continuing to do what he loves.  His children, Jaden, Savannah, Kalina, Abella and Ariana, were all born here and he has a strong urge to give back.  He is doing that in significant ways.

Israel is currently planning a project with Safe Avenues, Willmar Area Community Foundation,  and the Willmar Women’s fund to bring awareness to the problem of sex trafficking.  He is a man on a mission and is determined to be a person leading the fight.  With the problem literally in our own back yard, and so little awareness on the subject, he is determined to bring awareness and make a difference.  He notes that we have a responsibility to do something about it.  We need to pay attention.  He also realizes that it is a sensitive subject that many people would rather not face.  He even feels that speaking out against sex trafficking could place him in harms way.  Despite the concern for his safety, he is charging on, passionate about making a difference.

Some of the current statistics are startling:

  • Every 30 seconds another person becomes a victim of human trafficking
  • Minneapolis is ranked #2 in the nation for the online solicitation and recruitment of minors
  • The average life span of a human trafficking victim once they are enslaved is 7 years
  • St. Cloud is now the largest trafficking/training hub in MN


Israel has slated the event for April 21, 2018 at the Willmar Civic Center.  All proceeds will be gifted to Safe Avenues.  There will be a Red Carpet component, a fashion show for the youth, and he will once again provide the community with a Business Expo.  This gives local businesses an opportunity for great exposure.  He is determined to fill up the event to provide the businesses who take part with a lot of traffic.

It has been a long time since Israel was that little boy who opted for gazing out the window of the pick-up camper.  That little boy who thought things through, tried to see things from another perspective, and didn’t let stress or negativity get him down, has continually fine-tuned those qualities.  Diving into the arts in college helped him take a step back and see things from a different perspective.  Encountering the ongoing trials of life and continually choosing to stay positive and keep moving forward has become his hallmark, and one he tries to share and encourage in those around him.  He is generous with his time and talents to business people in the community, and strives to be a force that brings people together.

Thankfully for the victims of sex trafficking, Israel is the kind of guy who not only looks through the window, but is willing to do something about it.  It is encouraging to think about where he will go from here.

– Marn Steinwand