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Councilwoman Vianey Lopez shares a moment with the Coca Cola Polar Bear at Southwinds Park. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, October 3, 2019

By Chris Frost

chris@tricountysentry.com

Oxnard-- Southwinds Park was buzzing with excitement, Sept. 28, as the premier Community Resource Fair meant free backpacks and school supplies for the kids. 

 

Attendees also had access to healthcare programs, college scholarship opportunities, tutoring, adoptable pets, a free lunch, and much more.

 

Recreation Coordinator Julie Estrada handled the backpack and school supply table and said they are helping kids who are not ready for the school year.

 

"We were able to secure some funding for our non-profit Police Activities League (PAL) to provide 1,000 backpacks and school supplies for the kids," she said. "The Southwinds Neighborhood Council approached us and wanted to do something for community resources for their neighborhood. We've been doing this for about 12 years. We've done things in coordination with the Oxnard Elementary School in the past, and we decided to expand on their initial idea."

 

Many kids are dealing with older backpacks, Estrada said, and they're missing some essential supplies.

 

"If we are able to step in help out, that's the whole mission of the Police Activities League," she said. "We want to make sure we extend our reach as far as possible. In Jan. 2018, we turned the Southwinds Youth Center into a PAL site, so it allows us to extend our resources into this area."

 

Kids have lots of backpacks to pick from, and the children love bright colored backpacks.

 

"We always have to make sure they purchased enough of those," she laughed. "I love making sure the kids have a place that is safe for and fun them. They get to pick their supplies. That's important."

 

Adrian Pulido thinks handing out school supplies to kids is a cool activity.

 

"I didn't know this was going on until yesterday," he said. "I love giving back to the community."

 

He is also a boxing champion and got involved at the center when he saw other kids boxing in the basketball courts.

 

"I've been in it for four years, and I never want to get out," he said. 

 

Estrada said Pulido trains at the Mid-City gym.

 

"They all get together, the Colonia, Mid-City and Southwinds centers and do sparring and cross-training," she said. 

 

Joseph Zamora handed out rulers and highlighters to the kids and loved helping people that need supplies.

 

"At first, my mom forced me into going to the PAL, and the more I went, the more I liked it," he said. 

 

Ultimately, he apologized to his mother for giving her a hard time about going to the PAL.

 

"I did," he admitted. 

 

Cultural and Community Services Director Terrel Harrison said he is proud to see the park come to life at the resource fair.

 

"If you look around, this is what we are trying to do in the City of Oxnard," he said. "We have a real partnership with the community. This dream started a year ago with an idea from the community. They linked in with the Police Activities League, and this is what you have, an event that is helping people and connecting resources sparked by the community."

 

 The PAL raised the money for the backpacks and far exceeded their goals.

 

"We wanted to raise enough money for 200 backpacks, and we ended up raising enough money for 1,000," he said. "A lot of employees and local businesses contributed funds, with the support of the California and the National PAL programs. There is a host of things and people who care about this community."

 

The Oxnard PAL has a long-standing partnership with many groups at the event, and they were more than happy to help.

 

"They support us through the year and know we want to do positive things in the community," he said. "We also have Jacqui Irwin's office here. She's always been a strong supporter of the City of Oxnard."

 

Council Member Vianey Lopez represents Southwinds Park and loves seeing all the people and kids come together to benefit everyone.

 

"People were lining up before the fair was set up anticipating this," she said. "This is a great opportunity to bring resources together in a good community."

 

She loves seeing all the people being served at the fair and getting what they need.

 

"I'm here to support the work," she said. "Everything you see happening today is from the leadership of the neighborhood council. They're the ones ingrained in this community, and I support what they're doing. If anyone knows what the need is here, it’s the leadership. They're doing a great job bringing people together and looking out for what the need is and bringing those resources here."

 

Assistant City Attorney and Oxnard PAL Board Vice President Jason Zaragoza served hotdogs and had a great time. 

 

"I am helping and working with the kids in the youth program out here," he said. "I am trying to show them the value of community service and what we can do when we come together to help people out."

 

Zaragoza came up through the PAL program and the recreation department, he said, and as a child, he went to the youth centers, and that kept him off the streets.

 

"I didn't have the best upbringing and just the fact that I had the Oxnard Youth Center to go to kept me on the straight path," he said. "I went to college and grad school, and I knew I wanted to come back and help in some capacity. As a PAL director, I can pass on what was given to me. My objective is to give back in the same way the Oxnard PAL gave to me."

 

He mentors at the PAL and engages kids every week and tells them his story.

 

"In the circumstances they're in, it is possible to get out," he said. "Everybody around you is doing things, and you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I tell them my story and tell them you are going through some rough stuff, but the PAL program will give you the tools you need. Whatever you want to do, there is somebody at the PAL that can help you do that. I see myself in a lot of these children."

 

Oxnard Police Department Corporal Paul Knapp loves the resource fair.

 

"We're handing out things to the kids; they can take pictures on a motorcycle and at the end of the day, we'll hand out bicycle helmets," he said. "We brought the choose your ride car (police or taxi), and we brought the fatal vision goggles that give people the sense of what it is like to be under the influence. They learn more about drunk driving and the hazards and dangers of doing driving drunk."

 

Valarie Rodriguez recruited people for the STOP (Seniors Tackling the Opioid Problem) Program and hosts a table once a month at each senior center.

 

"We partner with the Oxnard Police Department, and we are doing drug disposal days," she said. "So far, we've collected over 800 pounds of medication. We are also going to have Coffee with a Cop and have presenters come out and talk about medication and keeping everything safe."

 

Rosa Gonzales got the chance to meet "Jukebox" at the Ventura County Animal Services table, and she is actively considering giving him a forever home.

 

"I just had to put down my eight-year-old dog who had cancer," she said. "I am a huge animal lover, and I saw him from across the field, and I came over. I like bully breeds, and they are misunderstood and wonderful companions."

 

Foster Coordinator Jennifer Haskins said the agency has close to 100 dogs available for adoption.

 

"We have even more cats," she said. "Jukebox is a senior bully breed dog who came into the shelter as a stray. He is available for adoption and loves people. He's been in playgroup with other dogs at the shelter and does well. Something unique about Jukebox is he's deaf, but that doesn't stop him from being a wonderful, lovely dog. He stands out among other dogs in the shelter, and he is learning sign language."

 

She loves saving lives.

 

"We don't only save lives; we save people," she said. "This job is just as much about people as it is about animals and watching them make families."