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VENICE : Joint Labors of Love Reopen Kids' Center

July 14, 1994|DONNA BIRCH

The reopening of the Las Doradas Children's Center couldn't have come at a better time for Rosa Alvarado.

During the six months the day-care center was closed for renovation, the young mother scrambled to find baby-sitters for her two sons, Arturo, 4, and Edwardo, 3. Already struggling to make ends meet on her salary from a part-time job, finding good, low-cost child care meant she had to dig deeper into her pockets.

But with the reopening of the center this week, Alvarado and other parents were again comfortable, knowing their kids were in good hands.

The center, which had been closed since December to move to a new location, reopened Monday, thanks to volunteers and donors ranging from parents of the 33 children enrolled in the day-care programs to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Parents volunteered countless hours assembling toys, scrubbing floors, cleaning, painting and decorating walls, gardening and plastering, to make sure everything was in order when the doors opened. The center is now at 804 Broadway St. near Pleasant View Avenue, in the Oakwood neighborhood. It had been at 917 Broadway.

"Different people pulled together because they recognize the need for a nice environment for children," said Gail Bryant, director of Las Doradas.

Parent Abigail Vibiano was one of the many volunteers. Her 9-year-old daughter has attended Las Doradas since she was a toddler, and, Vibiano said, the center is "an important part of our lives."

With all the excitement surrounding its reopening, it was almost forgotten there was a time not long ago when Las Doradas' future was uncertain.

Four years ago, parents feared the center, one of only a few in Oakwood, would have to close.

In 1989, Las Doradas, operated by the nonprofit Neighborhood Youth Assn., had leased the Broadway Street building from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But in 1990, the DWP said it planned to tear down the building to expand its power distribution site there.

The Neighborhood Youth Assn. didn't have the money to find an alternative site, said the association's executive director, Adel Martinez.

But city officials, private businesses, philanthropists and parents came up with a plan so the day-care center could stay open.

One of the first to provide help was Westside developer Rick Caruso, former DWP president, who persuaded the department to donate the building to the neighborhood association instead of tearing it down. All that was needed was a new location so the building could be moved.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter found the perfect spot, only a block or two away from the old site--a parcel of land next to Broadway Elementary School and owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which agreed to donate the land.

Through his charitable foundation, Caruso donated $75,000 to have the building moved and its foundation rebuilt.

The Oakwood neighborhood has been plagued by a gang war that left at least 17 people dead during the last year.

"You're talking about a tough area," said Caruso, who has two young children himself. "Providing a place like (Las Doradas) is the most important thing you could give these families. The children are getting proper . . . day care at a nominal cost."

Parents pay $40 a month for children 4 years old and younger, and $30 for older children, who are provided after-school programs.

Once the building was moved, landscaper Jay Griffith transformed the barren dirt lot into a grassy, tree-lined play area. Interior designer Melinda Engel decorated the classroom walls with colorful murals of letters, numbers and dinosaurs. Schwarzenegger donated new outdoor play equipment.

All the work was done pro bono, Martinez said. She estimated the project would have cost the association about $170,000.

Meanwhile, she is still overwhelmed by the support Las Doradas received from all over the Westside.

"This has been a labor of love," she said. "With all the problems going on in Venice, the children's center represents a ray of hope, despite the bloodshed going on."

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