Suzell Alvarez works directly with youth and parents that come into the Ramona Gardens Community Center. Photo by Ivan Villanueva.
Suzell Alvarez works directly with youth and parents that come into the Ramona Gardens Community Center. Photo by Ivan Villanueva.
Suzell Alvarez works directly with youth and parents that come into the Ramona Gardens Community Center. Photo by Ivan Villanueva.

Few people get to interact with the residents of Los Angeles’ oldest public housing development more than Suzell Alvarez.   As Senior Case Manager in the Resident Services Division for the Housing Authority of Los Angeles (HACLA), Alvarez, 40, has worked in different housing communities for over 20 years.

Alvarez currently runs the Ramona Gardens Community Center and helps implement the different grants HACLA receives each year. Alvarez began working in Ramona Gardens in 2009 and is proud to have been part of so many changes during her time in charge, including the launch of a Head Start program and even an on-site library.

BHB: What is the Ramona Gardens Community Center all about?

SA: Here at the Ramona Gardens Community Center we offer services for people that live in Ramona Gardens as well as the surrounding community. The residents here come into the center and use the computer lab; we have resume classes; they check their emails; they can do job searches; log onto CAL Jobs; they are able to fax, make copies, and help them with job searches. In the future, we are planning to organize some immigration information-type classes also. Right now we are being trained to be able to assist ex-offenders (people released from prison) to help them with job searches as well.

We also have a Head Start school next door, a nursery, and a library in the back. The school is mostly made up of Ramona Gardens kids and the rest are from the surrounding community; it’s for children between the ages of four and six.

BHB:It’s really cool there is a library on site. When did the library open and how busy does it get?

SA:The library opened in April of 2012. Last year we had over 1,800 people come in and use the library– from adults to youth. Usually there is an average of about 25 people who come in per week. That is only based on the number of sign-ins we get, so it could be higher. It’s open to the Ramona Gardens residents and surrounding community as well, but the majority of people that know it’s here are Ramona Gardens residents. Most of the residents that go to the library are elementary school kids. The Head Start program comes in on Wednesdays to do storytime with the kids. After they read, the kids have the opportunity to check books out for a week and when they come back for storytime the following Wednesday, they check out new books.

BHB: What is the biggest obstacle you face in serving the needs of this community? Or what would you like to see more of?

SA:I would say sometimes participation. There are a lot of programs going on around this community and I can see a lot of kids going to Legacy LA, for instance, or going to after school programs at Lincoln or Wilson high schools””which is a good thing because it shows there’s a lot of programs out there for which they are actually participating in. But we would also like for them to come to the commumity center more to get assistance in, for example, tutoring”” to put this facility to use. So what I would like is more participation from adults, the parents. Even though we let them know we’re here by attending all the resident meetings and passing out fliers, it seems hard for them to come out sometimes. It seems we have to keep reminding them that we are here and that all the services are free. I think that by bringing in more classes, for example resume bulding, this might bring in more people.

BHB: What do you like best about running this particular Community Center?

SA:I think working with the youth is the most rewarding thing. To be able to give them access to the center along with other opportunities. To see the youth come in, let’s say the summer youth that come in looking for employment, and are between the ages of 14 and 17. Some of them have never worked. To see them going through the process”¦and then getting their first paycheck ever”” it’s very gratifying. It’s also gratifying because you see how you are helping the youth by helping them to find out what work means, but also the parents. To see them be grateful and say ‘thank you so much because you are helping our income in the home.’ To see a kid come in here and have them say, ‘thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to work and become a little bit more self-sufficient.” It’s great.

Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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