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Community comes together to spruce up neighborhood Patty Chavez | Sat, May 10 2014 12:00 PM

It’s getting close to the end of the school year. Each month brings increasing energy to the area and campuses alike.

There are new splashes of color, lush gardens, new activities and a renewed sense of community.

“Activities start early before school bell rings and sometimes it just keeps going on until the sun goes down,” says Cyndi Gonzales, Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) Promotora.

Gonzales is referring to the increase of community involvement in the Castle Park neighborhood that has sustained a multitude of activities in the area. In just a little over a year, parent and community volunteers increased from 19 to 682 —a striking number that can be attributed to the capacity of personal interaction.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking or getting an activity rolling,” Gonzales shared. “They want to volunteer and be active community members. They just need a venue.”

Gonzales is one of 12 Promotoras, residents who currently reside or grew up in the Castle Park community and who are specially trained in outreach services. Since the beginning of CVPromise, they have collectively connected with more than 7,200 residents.

Activity on the campus has also captured interest. From food distribution to gardening to zumba classes, residents have stopped by the parent center to learn more. Gonzales said the word spreads too.

“One day an older gentleman stopped by because he saw things were happening here,” Gonzales said. “As we talked, we learned he was recently widowed and spent much of the time alone in his home just a short walk from the school. He’s not alone anymore. He’s now an active volunteer every morning taking part in some activity.”

Mornings on the campus of Castle Park Elementary are busy. Volunteers arrive early before the breakfast rush preparing the campus, assisting teachers, readying for school traffic control or leading the new walking club - popular with students and parents alike. But it was not always like this.

Gonzales believes that it’s more than just volunteering efforts. She says volunteers are now taking the lead.
Early in the school year, a workshop on wellness, walkability and safety for residents in the community grew strength and morphed into an ongoing program titled “Eyes on the Street”. Supported by CVPromise and with some training from School Resource Officer David Martinez, “Eyes on the Street” volunteers are working to address safety concerns.
Victor Rojas, a “1960ish” graduate of Castle Park Elementary and a current parent, has been a school traffic control volunteer for the past 10 years. Until this year, his focus was mostly on drop off in front of the school. Now with more support, he and other volunteers can help students entering through the back of the campus by way of crossing Oxford Street.

“A lot of kids walk to school this way,” Rojas said. “It’s a busy street. You’d be surprised what I’ve seen.”

But activities do not end in the morning they continue through the school day, onto afterschool and even spill over into the weekend. Recently, hundreds of volunteers participated in Chula Vista Helping Hands, an annual day of service.

This year, volunteers from throughout San Diego County helped paint, landscape, remove graffiti and re-beautify Castle Park High School, Hilltop High School and surrounding Castle Park neighborhood. It was the second year the event was held in conjunction with the efforts of CVPromise, but Gonzales said there was a difference.

“This year, our volunteers didn’t just participate. They led the teams,” Gonzales said. “They are proud of their community and feel a purpose every day.”

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) is proud to partner with Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High School to bring new opportunities and pathways of success for their students and families. For more information, please visit CVPromise.org or call (619) 422-5005.

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