Bolstered by the success of recreational programs for children in Lanark Park, community activists are reaching out to adults through a newly formed chapter of the International Optimists.
The new Lanark Park Optimist Club of Canoga Park, which claims about 28 adult members, was scheduled to be chartered in a ceremony Monday evening.
Optimist clubs, like the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, have a long history of community service in the middle-class suburbs of the San Fernando Valley.
But organizer Ed Young said that Lanark Park, once one of the West Valley's most notorious drug markets, is not typical of the Optimists' recruiting grounds.
Many occupants of the apartment buildings around the park are impoverished. Most are working-class, many are recent immigrants. Taken together, they are a far cry from the bankers and business owners that are the backbone of the club nationwide, he said.
"We are reaching out to people who are not traditional community activists," Young said. The Lanark group "gives us the opportunity to reach into a community that we don't see because they are invisible most of the time. They are not businessmen who go out and play golf every Wednesday."
Young said the new chapter hopes to fund field trips and job programs for local children. Many of the new chapter's activities may serve to support the programs of Keep Youth Doing Something, a sports league for at-risk youths established in the park about two years ago.
Much of the support for the new Optimist chapter is coming from apartment owners and managers nearby, who have donated more than $500 to get the group started, Young said.
Apartment manager Jose Gonzalez, the group's newly elected president, said that his chief goal is to keep children in the neighborhood from selling and taking drugs.
At one time, he said, "you could come here and you could buy whatever you were looking for."
Turnover in the apartments was high, as parents sought to keep their children away from gangs and drug dealers, he said. Lately, the area around the park has improved thanks to increased police patrols and the recreational programs, but Gonzalez said the Optimists are needed to keep Lanark from slipping back into being a pocket of urban crime.
"If we don't have enough support it may change back. . . . We will try to do anything to keep it up," he said.