Share about your life journey and how you found yourself living and working in the City Heights community.
Raul: I was born in East LA and my family decided to move to San Diego because of the issue of violence and gangs. We placed roots in San Ysidro and that is where my public service started. I joined the City of San Diego at the age of 15 back in 1981. I had an entry-level Parks and Rec position and went on to work at many different recreation centers including Southcrest, Memorial, and Golden Hill with the hope I would get the opportunity to transfer to City Heights because of all the investments from organizations like Price.
You’ve served the City Heights community for many years. Describe your current and past roles and what you’ve enjoyed the most.
R: Working in City Heights has been very gratifying and there is never a dull day as Area Manager. I’ve stuck around the Parks and Rec Department for so long that I believe I am the most tenured in the entire department. This role has allowed me to take an active role in programming and developing outreach. Many of our communities still lack adequate programming and I really enjoy helping our center create city-run programs. The hope is to lead by example and encourage others to help create good programs for their community.
What accomplishments and impacts are you most proud of with your work in the City Heights community?
R: I have to say that my favorite part of my job is implementing special events. I get to work with SAY San Diego, Price, San Diego Unified School District, the police, and other organizations that work together to bring resources to the community. These programs vary in size but always bring free activities or events like Love City Heights, Dia de Los Muertos, or the Lunar New Year Celebration. I hope that the city can continue working to provide multicultural events and resources for years to come. If you have an idea, I’d love to hear it and see how we can make it happen!
What changes have you experienced in City Heights over the years? What partners have been instrumental in this change?
R: I think the biggest change is the development of the Urban Village. This investment is what motivated me to become part of this community. Having schools, colleges, a library, retail, and recreation activities all in one place is a total game-changer. This has helped make our parks safer, and ultimately a better place. Still, I think we need to continue working towards the proper activation of our public spaces because it is the only way to discourage negative elements in our community.
Is there anything that has surprised you most over the years as a resident of and advocates for City Heights?
R: The thing that has surprised me the most is people’s wiliness to spend their own time and resources even though they do not receive any recognition for what they do. There are people who simply want to share their heritage and keep traditions alive for their children and grandchildren. People have so many other priorities like making ends meet and yet they still decide to give back. What bigger incentive is there to work for the community than this? It is truly admirable.
In your opinion, what are the most important challenges facing the community of City Heights today?
R: There are so many issues such as homelessness that are not going to go away with a flip of a switch. We must work together to find better solutions and new ways to bring resources to City Heights. That might mean changing programming to reach a broader base and meet community needs. The pandemic has shown us that we need to be flexible. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to tell my patrons “don’t come to the parks” after so many years of trying to activate our parks? It was very difficult, but being flexible and trying creative programs like “Come Play Outside” has allowed us to offer programming at many of our parks.
What lessons have you learned throughout your efforts that you’d like to pass on to others?
R: One lesson I have learned is that Parks and Recreation is such a great department to work for. You can’t beat it. You get paid to help others, work in the community, have tangible results, and help kids get lifelong experiences. It doesn’t get any better. I wish more people would come work here and take advantage of this career opportunity. If you already have a career, you could even volunteer!
Do you mind sharing with us a bit about your life outside of your work? What are your other passions, talents, and hobbies you enjoy?
R: Honestly, my work has become part of my life. My favorite hobby now is my family. I love to spend time with my son and grandson. Spending time with them brings me joy. It makes me think of our families in City Heights. I know firsthand how hard it is to raise a child. When I look at our families, many of whom are raising multiple children, they still find the strength and motivation to help their kids succeed. They find time to come to our center and enroll their kids in our programs. Man, it’s truly admirable.
What advice would give youth in City Heights? Any encouraging words for our community families during this challenging time?
R: It’s not easy to grow up in our communities, but there are many stories of resilience. If you’re a kid in City Heights, know that you can do whatever you set your mind to. When I was a kid, all I wanted was a job to make money. It was not until I was a few years into my time with Parks and Recreation that I realized this was such a good job. If you are a young person, or even an old person who needs a good job, you should work for the city. They gave me all the tools to be successful. If it wasn’t for the city, I don’t know where I’d be. I hope that I can continue working to help kids see their potential.
Mr. Price recognizes you as a City Heights Hero for all your do for our community, and it’s clear you’ve become a hero to those you serve in City Heights. What are your thoughts about this recognition?
R: I want people to know that our youth and their families are the real heroes. I work for them as a civil servant, and I get paid to do what I do! I don’t do it for recognition, but you know what? Getting a thank you is always nice. The City Heights community embraces you when you work hard. When I am out there helping my crews because we are understaffed, we get residents who stop and thank us for helping keep their park clean. It feels good to get that thank you because you don’t always get it. I am really honored for this recognition, especially from an organization that does so much for the community. I look forward to working with you all to continue bringing resources to City Heights.