When the Friends of Salazar Park started 27 years ago, it only had 10 members.
But they were dedicated, and very determined to improve services offered at the park in unincorporated East Los Angeles, including for residents over the age of 60 who they felt needed more than just a lunch program and games of loteria.
So they reached out to Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation staff, Director Manuel Escobar and Anthony Montanez, to come up with a plan to expand program for seniors.
Today, the senior center at Ruben Salazar Park is one of, if not the busiest, in the region. There are several clubs that cater to different interests, and as many as 500 people daily take part in one or more of the activities that take place at the center.
For many of the seniors, the senior center is like a second home, where they meet up with friends for fun and laughter, and to console those that experience a loss.
“We keep an eye out for one another,” Chris Mojica, 83, a center volunteer and organizer of many of the center’s activities told EGP. There is a spirit of community, and it goes beyond the center’s doors.
This Saturday, Nov. 23rd, as they have for many years running, the volunteers at Salazar Park will again hold a Thanksgiving dinner for 1,200 people, most of them very low-income, needy or even homeless, Mojica told EGP, a long time sponsor of the group’s activities.
He wanted to give special thanks to Supervisor Gloria Molina, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Sen. Ron Calderon for the longtime support, as well as Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who has joined their efforts this year. Other long time supporters include Rudy’s Baja Grill, Latino American Mortuary and Los Caballeros, he noted.
“But we are getting old, we’ve lost many people over the years,” noted Mojica.
The Friends group recently posed for a group picture to make sure that people who have dedicated so much time to the center, are not forgotten.
To that end, they commissioned a plaque to be installed at the center with many of the names of the people who spent years creating programs, fundraising, teaching, and at times, pushing park and county officials to do more.
“Every time you turn around someone has died, or no longer has the strength to come to the center. The county is not going to remember them, even though they were active there for years, so we will,” he said.
In a letter addressed to the public, Mojica noted that their efforts supported the addition of computer classes, arts and craft activities, expanded lunch program, and a variety of exercise classes for seniors, youth and children of different ability levels and preferences. You can Zumba or do sep aerobics or yoga, whichever you prefer, his letter explains. And the center’s instructors are certified, he adds.
The center offers classes in citizenship, English as a Second Language, and computer literacy.
“The sad part is we are getting older, some have passed. Today we have over 40 hard working members who donate time at our center; 11 of them are over 80 years old: Gaby Salazar, Daniel Ponce, Carlos and Angelina Rodriguez, Martha Fuentes, Natie Colores, Maria Garcia, Carmelita Ramirez, Frank Villa-Gomez, Alicia Gallardo, and Mojica.
This weekend they will all be out there cooking and serving the food, giving from their heart to our community, as they have done year after year.