Dolores Mission Breaks Ground on Expansion

August 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dolores Mission on Gless Street in Boyle Heights is more than just a church and elementary school, it’s a long time institution that serves as a center of community activism on issues ranging from crime and environmental justice, as well as education and spirituality.

Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit group that helps gangs members transition out of the life through job training and other resources, was started at Dolores Mission. Last week, the campus was the launching point for a peace march during the annual observance of National Night Out.

At its core, Dolores Mission is dedicated to improving outcomes for the area’s low-income children. On Monday, the Catholic school broke ground on a new 6,500 sq. ft., two-story school facility, the parish’s pastor, Father Ted Gabrielli, said will open new opportunities to serve more students and lift more families out of poverty.

Students, teachers and friends of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights help break ground on a new facility to house more students. Los Angeles council man Jose Huizar and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago were among those taking part in the ceremony. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Students, teachers and friends of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights help break ground on a new facility to house more students. Los Angeles council man Jose Huizar and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago were among those taking part in the ceremony. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

“…This building project becomes a beacon of hope” for the communities we walk with in good times and bad, Gabrielli said during a groundbreaking ceremony attended by members of the parish, students and their families, and local elected officials.

The parish and TK (transitional kindergarten) through 8th grade school is operated by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The school primarily serves families living in the Maravilla, Ramona Gardens and Pico Gardens housing projects that surround the campus. Of those families, nearly 70 percent earn less than $24,000 a year and 94 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced breakfast and lunch program.

The expansion allows the school to open new classrooms for early education. Plans include two new classrooms for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. There are also talks about a playground, meeting space for parents and youth groups and office space for program administrators. The added space will allow the school to increase enrollment from 250 to 300 students.

“It underlines our belief in the children of this community,” Gabrielli said about the decision to enlarge the school facility. “We are committed to providing a quality education that not only transforms young people’s, but their families also.”

Phase 2 of the project will include renovation of the existing school building to create a library, a music classroom, and adding more technology into each classroom.

“We are serving more children in our community,” Gabrielli said. “It brings good news and hope to more families.”

Gone But Not Forgotten: Giving Thanks, One Photo At A Time

August 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels Support Group has been busy putting up photos in a senior center conference room that doubles as a museum filled with artifacts chronicling the center’s history. The small room is now also home to a new memorial the group hopes will help preserve the legacy of giving by volunteers who have passed away.

Most of the old-timers who started the park’s programs are gone now, says Chris Mojica, a long time volunteer at Ruben Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles.

If it were up to him, everyone who uses the center would know the names of the people whose hard work, sacrifice and love helped make Salazar Park a vibrant community center.

Located in the heart of East L.A on Whittier Boulevard, Salazar Park is a place where people can come together and share good times, learn new skills, and even work on ways to influence elected officials by registering voters and sending letters on issues they deem important, the 86-year-old Mojica told EGP.

“It seems like just yesterday our park was called Laguna Park,” recalled Angel Support Group members in an email to EGP. They said most of the people who use the park aren’t aware it was at the center of one of the most important events in the fight for civil rights by Latinos in East Los Angeles, the Chicano Moratorium. Nor do they know its name was changed to honor Ruben Salazar, the journalist killed by Sherriff deputies during the Chicano Moratorium in 1970.

But the park’s legacy is not just about that moment in history, emphasizes Mojica, it’s really about the people who took it upon themselves to make sure services and activities are available to young and old in the Eastside, whether he or she was born in the U.S. or is an immigrant, speaks English, Spanish, or both.

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

If you live in a working class community and don’t have very much money, there aren’t always as many resources available, and those there are aren’t always the best. That’s why Salazar Park is so important to this community, said Ray Guerrero, 71, who has been lobbying the county parks department to include a variety of new amenities when it remodels the recreation center later this year.

It’s due to the generosity of a long list of volunteers that  “we have dancing, Pop Warner football and all kinds of sports,” ESL classes and other activities, the group said.

The Angels Support Groups is under the umbrella of the Friends of Salazar Park, a decades old volunteer organization dedicated to making the County of Los Angeles-run recreational facility a place where families feel comfortable gathering, and seniors feel wanted and respected. The Angels group was formed about a year and a half ago to provide emotional support and comfort to seniors as they face the challenges of growing old.

When someone doesn’t show up for a while, “we call to make sure he or she is okay. When a member of the group gets ill, we visit the person, sometimes at their home, but more often than not at a hospital or nursing home,” said 61-year-old Sylvia Ortiz. Sometimes there are too many people to fit into the van provided by the park to transport the volunteers, Ortiz said, adding, “It feels good to give back, to help others.”

Call it nostalgia or just wanting not to be forgotten, but these days there’s a sense of urgency in their efforts to memorialize their time and work at Salazar Park.

“We’ve lost some of the best friends Salazar Park ever had over the last few years and we just want people to know their names,” Mojica said, sharing with EGP a list of some of those who were around for decades giving of their time, energy and whatever resources they could muster before they passed.

Many on the list are honored with a photo on of the walls of the senior center.

On Tuesday, Guerrero used his cane as a pointer, as one by one they named the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. Ortiz joked that volunteer music instructor Marcelo Vasquez has left room for more photos, but she doesn’t want her picture up there anytime soon.

There’s Gabriela Salazar, or Gaby as most people knew her, a spitfire of a woman who volunteered at the center five days a week for over 30 years, teaching Zumba, organizing field trips, serving Thanksgiving dinner and giving out toys to the area’s many low-income families. Big in heart and full of energy, Gaby was always there.

Richard Romero, Audry Torres, Sergio Murga, Rosa Portillo and Elena Camargo all gave of their time and will be missed, so will former park director Dora Montijo.

Jonathan Sanchez, EGP’s COO and associate publisher who passed away in late December, has also earned a place on the wall at Salazar Park. “He gave us so many beautiful stories and donated money to our senior center,” the group said.

“All these wonderful people who gave so much, not only to our senior center but Salazar Park, have left us, but they are not forgotten,” the group said.

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

We owe them a lot, said Ortiz, who says she plans to follow their good example.

“What they gave came from the goodness in their souls,” added Vasquez.

A plaque on the wall, written in Spanish, recognizes their service and departure from this world:

“Thank you for all you have done for us. Rest in peace.”

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