Nearly 100 seniors gathered recently at Ruben F. Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles for a morning of music, food and awards for some of the center’s very hard working volunteers.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Jubilados del Parque Salazar Celebran un Nuevo Comienzo 
The outdoor celebration — billed as un dia de amistad, (a day of friendship) — was also intended to mark what some seniors called a “new beginning” following months of unrest that caused some long time participants to abandon the County-run facility in favor of senior programs at other parks.
Controversy over the actions of some former park employees and contractors have for the most part been put aside, with several seniors telling EGP they give credit to the arrival of new Assistant Regional Director Sofia Gavia.
Long time volunteer Chris Mojica told EGP that they can really “see a big difference” since Gavia’s arrival, from new, brighter paint to a friendlier and more cooperative attitude among park staff. “She’s getting in there and talking to everyone to see what needs to get done,” he said.
Since the arrival of Gavia and her comment cards, which allow seniors and volunteers to write down any changes they want to see or discuss, the approximately eight senior clubs at the Senior Center have been getting along better, volunteer Nacho Barragan told EGP. Gavia said clubs would plan events for the same date and time, without informing anyone, causing friction between the groups. Now, to avoid conflicts in scheduling, clubs meet weekly to plan out events and facility use, she said.
“We’re working on developing relationships,” said Gavia, who said that the celebration was also a form of meeting more members of the community. “The goal is to come in and do more.”
Barragan said he was surprised to see how willing the groups were to meet, saying even the men who play pool send a representative or two to the meetings. They are even talking about holding tournaments, Gavia said.
The park is now regularly publishing a newsletter that includes a schedule of classes, community events and even highlights birthdays.
“We’re [also] really focusing on physical fitness,” Gavia told EGP, explaining it is one of the top priorities for the recreation center that provides youth as well as senior activities.
With that in mind, kinesiology students from Cal State LA and Cal State Northridge have been recruited to teach seniors and others how to use the park’s outdoor fitness equipment effectively, said Frank Gonzales, deputy director for the East County Community Services Agency. The outdoor fitness equipment is accessible 7 days a week to the entire community.
The center recently saw the loss of much of its indoor exercise equipment when an aerobics instructor’s contract was cancelled. The loss still does not sit well with some park members, like Barragan, who said the equipment was paid for through fundraisers and by the money collected as “donations” for the classes, which the instructor had a contract to teach. He says Zumba students were told that the money being collected was to pay for the exercise equipment, a claim denied by the former instructor who said she paid for the equipment out of her pocket/earnings and was therefore entitled to take it with her.
The dispute is one that is likely to be left unresolved, since according to Gonzales there are no records or County stamps or other types of markings identifying the equipment as County owned.
“I don’t understand how the County could just let her take it when we raised the money to buy it, Barragan said in frustration.
Moving forward, volunteers say efforts are getting underway to try to raise the funds needed to purchase new equipment, Barragan told EGP.
For the most part, however, park users say they are happy with the expansion of program offerings at Salazar Park. New programs will include ceramic, salsa dancing and tennis classes that are open to all county residents. The park also hopes to offer water polo and perhaps diving lessons in the renovated pool, with funding help from the LA84 Foundation.
Jaime Rodriguez, representing Sen. Ron Calderon, presented certificates of recognition to nearly 20 volunteers for the thousands of hours they have together contributed to the park. Also recognized were Gloria Alvarez, Managing Editor of Eastern Group Publications (publisher of this newspaper) and Seline Rivera, a staff writer with Hoy newspaper, for their efforts to provide information on park activities and issues.
“Their volunteer hours are valuable to the well-being and the quality of life in the community,” Rodriguez said.
Gonzales told EGP it’s Gavia and park staff working together that’s making the park move in the direction they want to go, a friendlier, more responsive recreation facility.
“Today is just an example that we can do so much better,” acknowledged Gavia.
Salazar Park is located at 3864 Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles.