Salazar Park’s ‘Busy Bees’ Volunteers Recognized for Service to Senior Center

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

The Friends of Salazar Park Seniors on June 1 recognized the developmentally disabled “Busy Bee” volunteers whose enthusiastic work has helped beautify the park and contribute to the friendly feeling that abounds at the dynamic eastside senior center.

Senior Coordinator Chris Mojica, a long-time volunteer at the senior center, said they planned the award ceremony to show their appreciation to the disabled adults who work at the park up to five days a week.

“They are a part of us,” Mojica told EGP. “They have such a good attitude and make us feel good when they are here, we just wanted to show them that we appreciate their hard work,” he said.

The awardees — who range in age from 20 to 70 — have been dubbed the Salazar Park Busy Bees. On a daily basis they help tend the garden, do custodial and clerical work and mingle with the Center’s lively, mostly Latino seniors.

Lea esta nota EN INGLÉS: ‘Abejas Ocupadas’ del Parque Salazar son Reconocidos por su Servicio

Sen. Ron Calderon’s district representative Jaime Rodriguez presented the Busy Bees with commendations signed by Calderon. He said the Busy Bees are doing incredible work at the park and are a model for other parks and agencies that want to provide productive activities to disabled adults.

“In honor of your commitment and service to Salazar Park Senior Center, as well as the dedication you have displayed upon the members and public by being friendly, courteous and dependable. I join with Senior Center Members, Park staff, volunteers and the community in expressing our appreciation and to say thank you for your service,” read the awards signed by the state senator.

The Busy Bees, who come from different behavioral day program, have been working at the Ruben F. Salazar Park, located on East Whittier Blvd in East Los Angeles, since 2008, according to Mojica and Arturo Olivas of Choix Vocational Services.

Choix serves approximately 60 clients in the program that is primarily funded by the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center and San Gabriel Pomona Regional Center, Olivas said.

Their clients — with severe/mild mental retardation, autism and down syndrome — learn a variety of skills as volunteers at Salazar Park, including vocational and social skills, he said. A job coach also monitors their behavior; three clients are assigned to each job coach.

“It’s great to see their work. It’s so clean and green and to know that it’s because of these clients contributing to this center,” Olivas said. “They brought back life to this park.”

An honor like this doesn’t come every day for disabled volunteers, Olivas said, noting the significance of the awards presented to the volunteers is deeply appreciated.

Thirty-five-year-old Esperanza Garcia, a resident of Ramona Gardens, was smiling ear to ear throughout the event. Garcia said she helps clean the tables and sweeps the parking lot, but her favorite thing to do is hold the door open for seniors with walkers.

21-year-old Jose Contreras of El Sereno also said he enjoys his work at Salazar Park. “I always work here. It’s so great to do it a lot, I like to sweep and shake the rugs off,” he said.

A smile lit up 73-year-old Rene Otero, one of a few elderly Busy Bees, when asked if he liked to work at Salazar Park.

“I like to clean the park,” he said. His job coach, Lizette Mendez of Easter Seals, based in Whittier, said Otero gets upset when he can’t come to the park. Otero and two other clients attend the park 4 out of 5 days a week, she explained.

Mendez said beside taking pride in their work, the Busy Bees are making friends and exercising on the park equipment.

“Busy Bee” Domingo Maldonado (left) receives a certificate from Jaime Rodriguez (right) signed by Senator Ron Calderon. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Gloria Valdez, president of Friends of Salazar Park and member of the East Los Angeles Lions Club, said the Busy Bees do everything, including participating in Bingo and crochet sessions. The Lions Club is a supporter of the senior center, which presented the awards, she explained.

Ray Guerrero, a volunteer senior coordinator at the senior center, said the Busy Bees are angels and he enjoys seeing them happy to be able to provide a service to the community.

Guerrero said he helped establish the East Los Angeles Remarkable Citizens’ Association, Inc. (EL ARCA), a trailblazer organization that helped bring services to disabled individuals in the East LA area.

“My brother is disabled… [people need to] recognize that they are people like us,” said Guerrero, “they just need a little understanding and patience.”

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June 7, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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