By Kristina Houck
To suppress escalating drug and gang violence in Solana Beach’s Eden Gardens community, members of the public organized in September 2010 to encourage local youth to make positive choices and improve resources for all residents. From creating a community garden to launching a youth leadership camp, La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation continues to work toward building a better community.
“We just felt that as a community, we needed to organize ourselves so that we can have more open communication and more accountability among the schools, the police and the city around what the community deserves,” said Manny Aguilar, president and board chairman of the foundation. “Our focus is to help facilitate healthy choices, healthy opportunities for our community, so that our kids can be successful academically, socially and make better choices for their futures.”
Hosted by the foundation, community members and local officials gathered to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments Nov. 13 at La Colonia Park. Foundation board members recognized their supporters, including San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts.
During the event, participants of the foundation’s youth summer leadership camp presented videos of the event. Local youth who formed a chapter of the Friday Night Live program unveiled a series of photos of things they would like to change in and around the community. As part of the project, students will try to make those changes and follow up with a second exhibition of photos that show the evolution of their efforts.
“There have been a lot of collaborations, because we’re all volunteers,” said Aguilar, who has lived in the community for 33 years. “We all work and we don’t have staff, so we try to partner with as many community services, businesses, organizations and individuals to make this a better community.”
Before the foundation became an official organization in June 2011, the group organized a community picnic that featured information about job training, charter schools and other community resources.
“That was when the economy was really tough,” he said. “We wanted to make sure people knew there were resources out there.”
Since then, other foundation projects have included a youth soccer program and a youth leadership camp.
In April 2012, the foundation held a community forum to discuss social, educational and health issues affecting the quality of life in the community.
With private donations and a $10,000 grant from Home Depot, the foundation established a neighborhood garden in October 2012 at St. Leo Mission Catholic Church in Eden Gardens.
“We’re very happy with what we’ve been able to do,” Aguilar said. “But there’s so much more that we’d like to accomplish. We’d like to unite the community even more.”
In addition to celebrating its accomplishments and thanking supporters, the foundation kicked off an overall needs assessment of the community and asked attendees to fill out a survey about their desires for Eden Gardens, as well as their concerns. The assessment, which will be done in collaboration with area school and city officials, is the next major project for the foundation, Aguilar said.