Danny Rojo, a volunteer with La Colonia Community Foundation, chats with English as a second language students at a “Conversation Café” Mira Costa class. Several volunteers with the Foundation volunteer to help with the classes, offering conversation practice to students looking to improve their English. Photo by Lexy Brodt
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Solana Beach nonprofit aims to enrich community

SOLANA BEACH — To resident Lisa Montes, La Colonia de Eden Gardens offers a rich history waiting to be told.

And by founding a nonprofit organization along with several other La Colonia community members, she is hoping to share that history with the community at large.

La Colonia Community Foundation was launched in early 2019 with the broad mission to give back to the community which has materialized in ways both subtle and profound.

So, what is the foundation’s biggest task ahead?

Planning the city’s 2019 Dia de los Muertos event.

In 2018, two separate Dia de los Muertos events took place, largely due to divisions within the La Colonia community.

In years past, the event has been sponsored jointly by the city and La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation.

But now Montes, vice president of the La Colonia Community Foundation board, is hoping to make a change. The new organization is awaiting final sign-offs from the city after applying to host the event, and planning is underway.

Montes said the event will focus on the importance of altars, a commemorative symbol of the Mexican holiday.

“That is what Dia de los Muertos is all about … honoring the memory of our ancestors,” she said.

Montes said the event will offer not only a reunion for the La Colonia community, but a chance for families in greater Solana Beach to be involved and build their own altars as well.

The board is in the process of seeking vendors and exhibitors for the event, but bands (Jimmy Castro’s band and Los Gringos Muertos) have committed to playing, and Elba Montes’ Ballet Folklorico will perform.

Down the road, the foundation is hoping to host various fundraisers to prepare for the event, such as a rummage sale on May 11 at 9 a.m. and a pancake breakfast in late June.

But when they’re not making arrangements for the neighborhood celebration ahead, the foundation’s members can be found mentoring the La Colonia Changers — a youth group based in Eden Gardens and sponsored by the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, or working with English as a second language students at a biweekly MiraCosta College class.

Every Monday and Wednesday, several of the foundation’s board members volunteer at the community center in La Colonia Park, participating in MiraCosta’s “Conversation Café” with students from all corners of the globe. The class’s teacher, Zakia Farouq, reached out to the board, and since then, several of the foundation’s members have been coming every week to lend a hand.

Montes said getting involved with the Conversation Café is just another way the foundation is hoping to build connections with the community.

“It’s to develop our place — our place is to connect with the greater Solana Beach community, to tell our story,” she said.

The foundation is also honing in on how to empower youth in the community — through mentoring, but also by encouraging them to take on leadership roles. And this starts with the foundation’s board itself — 18-year-old Natalie Salgado, a La Colonia Changer, recently joined the board as a member.

Salgado, a senior at Coastal Academy High School, said she is excited to be involved with the foundation, “a legitimate movement that actually wants to make a difference,” she said.

Salgado is a familiar name around La Colonia — her great grandparents were among the founding families in the community, and opened up the area’s famed Tony’s Jacal restaurant.

For her, getting involved with the board is a way to connect the community to “our family history” and show others what it means to be Latino.

“It makes me feel like my great grandparents who founded this community would be proud of what I’m doing,” she said.

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