Virginia Avenue Park gives back

As the curtain closes on Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, Santa Monica's Virgina Avenue Park Center is busy preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Located on Virginia Avenue, only two blocks from Santa Monica College, the center takes care of dozens of children within its Thelma Terry Building, as well as teenagers within its Teen Center.

The center provides several activities, such as arts and crafts, homework assistance, and music playing and recording in a studio setting for its elementary-level children. The center has different specialist instructors or volunteers for each activity.

The Teen Center provides teenagers from middle school to college with areas of study, as well as rooms to relax and interact, including a lounge with sofas, a television, and wall space for teens to paint.

The center encourages teens to stay active and provides a fitness room with instructors to guide them through a variety of workouts and exercises.

Moira McCormack, supervisor of the elementary program and academic assistance program of the Teen Center, says the center provides all of these services free of charge to its members.

The center is funded through the city of Santa Monica, and it is given a budget each year, which the administration then uses to decide what to spend money on, she says.

As far as budgets go, McCormack says the center has been very fortunate, as it did not have to cut much of anything.

"I think we have had to basically be fiscally responsible," McCormack says, adding that they must take note of the areas of the program that would be more expendable than others if severe budget cuts were to take place.

McCormack also spoke of several grants that the center has applied for, but has not yet heard whether it will receive them or not.

With all of these free services already at hand, the center is able to hold several events that allow the community to come together to celebrate any given holiday.

One upcoming event for the center is its annual Harvest Dinner on Nov. 22.

"It's basically like our version of Thanksgiving," says Kelly Mehrvaj, a program specialist.

She says the center invites families within the community to go and enjoy music from a DJ, as well as possible live music from the children.

La Posada is another event hosted by the center for its Christmas tradition. For this event, Mehrvaj says members walk through the community holding candles, and perform plays for the community.

"It's really a cool cultural event, especially if you've never done Posada," she says.

One of the biggest events of the year for the center is the Cinco de Mayo festival.

"During that event, we have a lot of performers come," Mehrvaj says. "We have arts and crafts activities, and it is open to the entire public."

For this event, different cultures speak about their history and what the holiday means to them. Other performers include Mariachi bands, who are known for their energetic Mexican style of music.

Additional holidays, celebrated by the center, include Mardi Gras, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Juneteenth, a holiday which celebrates the emancipation of African Americans.

Mehrvaj feels it is important to recognize and embrace the cultures of each child, parent, staff member and any other member of the community, in order to grow as individuals.

"Basically, what we like to do here is if we have something, we share our own culture," she says. "The more cultures you can immerse yourself into, the more you have an identity to your community."

Although construction around the buildings prevented the center from holding some of their events this year, McCormack says the center's celebrations will be back on track in 2014.

"We just want to make sure that the participants are educated on the different celebrations that occur," she says.

McCormack says her ultimate goal is to provide services to the community that they otherwise might not have access to.

"It's really based on what they want," she says. "It's the input we receive from parents and from residents about the programs they would like to have here."

Jonathan RamosComment