Community unites for annual Celebration of Life

Community unites for annual Celebration of Life
Children enjoy the Libby Lake Park playground. Teens in the REACH afterschool program are active in cleaning up the park and planning the yearly Celebration of Life. File photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — The Libby Lake neighborhood will hold the third annual Celebration of Life March 12. The event is a somber reflection of the anniversary of the tragic gang shootings that took two young lives in 2012, and a year later repeated itself and took two more innocent lives. The gathering is also a spirited celebration that marks community strength to move forward and take back the park.

The park serves as a daily gathering spot for kids and families. It sits in the center of the neighborhood between Libby Elementary School, a recreation center and hilltop apartments. “It’s always active with families in the afterschool hours,” Maria Yanez, city Neighborhood Services management analyst, said.

The upcoming event will have kids games, free food and information booths on youth programs, counseling services and police outreach.

“The celebration of life is bringing life to that community,” Yanez said.

The annual event draws more than 300 people, chiefly neighborhood working class and military families with toddlers through teens.

The first year the celebration attracted its biggest crowd. The initial event mourned the victims, and brought the community together in remembrance to drop off flowers and stuffed animals at the site of the tragedy.

In the following years the annual remembrance also focused on survivors and those dealing with the loss of family and loved ones.

Youth in the Vista Community Clinic REACH afterschool program have taken leadership roles in planning the annual event and improving the community.

“The youth spearheaded a lot of the activities, saying ‘we need help to do this,’” Yanez said.

This year many of the youth who were closely connected to the shooting victims have moved on to college. Other youth have stepped up to continue to organize a positive day of community unity.

“It is a celebration of life for those who survived and are moving forward,” Yanez said.

At the request of residents, brush and thick trees were cleared from the park to create safe visibility in the months following the first shooting.

A year ago the REACH afterschool program was awarded a grant from the Oceanside Charitable Foundation to rebuild a park retaining wall, improve the volleyball area, and add a mural to one of the restroom buildings.

The community has gained a watchful awareness of neighborhood safety, and continues to organize family fun activities. About a dozen events a year are held at the park by the city, churches and community groups.

This year’s Celebration of Life will be held at Libby Lake Park March 12, from noon to 3 p.m.

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