A Push for Positive Change in Santa Ana’s Willard Neighborhood

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Tucked in the north end of Santa Ana sits the Willard neighborhood a community consisting of a few blocks of overcrowded homes and apartment buildings, but also a successful park with a playground, basketball courts, and a soccer field.

The success is largely thanks to the Willard Task Force for Neighborhood Transformation, which meets once every two months across the street from the park at the St. Peter Lutheran Church and is run by Pastor Wesley Menke.

Each member brings something different to the task force meetings, but they are all there for the same reason: to identify areas of opportunity that will make a significant impact in the community.

Councilman Roman Reyna was the featured speaker at last week’s meeting. He talked about ways to keep kids off the street, particularly through a joint agreement with the Santa Ana Unified School District.

“I have lived in Santa Ana all my life and not much has changed, new programs come and go but nothing has really stuck,” Reyna said. “So I am proposing a joint use agreement.”

The agreement would allow for the schools to remain open until around 10 p.m. and be available for nonprofit organizations putting on workshops and extracurricular activities for parents and students.

Parent involvement remains the biggest obstacle they face.

“Its hard getting parents to come out and get involved in activities or classes after school, because the majority of them are working or getting home from work” said Ari Robledo, from the Outreach program at the Willard Intermediate School.

The group decided some sort of incentive would be needed to entice parents to regular attend meetings and activities.

“You would be surprised how many people actually want to come out and get involved,” said Marta Rodriguez,the office administrator at St. Peter Lutheran. “When we had our first neighborhood clean up, people would come up to us and ask what we were doing and then they ended up coming-out to our next events. We just have to figure out a way to keep them involved.”

In the coming months, various events — including another clean up on June 4th and a resource fair on September 11th — are being planned. Along with that, six big trash cans will be set up throughout the Willard neighborhood to encourage the community to keep their streets clean.

Pastor Wesley summed up the efforts: “I heard that our coast was going through a starfish epidemic recently but now they are finding an onslaught of starfish re-growing and reproducing. It is a sign that new life is possible, things get better and it gives me hope for the community we are helping.”

The next Task Force meeting is on July 14th at 1pm.

Vanessa Sandoval is a Santa Ana resident and UC Irvine Literary Journalism major. She can be reached at vanesss1@uci.edu.