IVAN DELGADO/Coachella Unincorporated
OASIS – Thirteen-year-old Diego Martinez runs around the grassy field, throwing water balloons at the kids from his neighborhood — an activity new for this former Duroville resident.
Diego is among the many children who recently relocated to Mountain View Estates, a new mobile home park in the Eastern Coachella Valley, as a result of the hazardous conditions that deemed the Duroville trailer park uninhabitable.
“I’m able to play soccer, run around on the grass, and play on the swings at the playground,” said Diego, smiling. “I couldn’t do that at Duroville because of the dogs running around and biting us.”
But Diego and his friends no longer have to worry about dogs. They now feel safe enough to go outside and play in the well-kept field in their new community.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the kids participate in organized physical activities – such as water balloon fights and non-competitive soccer — organized by Latino Health Access, a non-profit organization that reaches out to underserved families with public health problems.
“What we’re doing is bringing some organized physical activities for the children, so they can have fun. They have a nice place out here now, something they didn’t have out in Duroville, and we wanted to take advantage of that,” said Alejandro Espinoza, program coordinator for Latino Health Access. “The most important thing is for them to have fun, something to look forward to on a weekly basis. We also have volunteers that serve as role models for the children, something they should really be exposed to.”
Derek Barajas, 16, is one of the many volunteers from Xavier College Prep High School in Palm Desert.
“I like it, they look up to us as role-models, and it gives them hope,” said Barajas. “Mountain View Estates is a lot nicer and gives them more of a community, and after school, it gives them something to look forward to.”
Maricela Timozly, 12, also recently moved to Mountain View Estates with her family.
“At Duroville, I had no one to play with,” said Maricela, surrounded by several children.
“Everyone was afraid to go out on the streets, because of the dogs and the cars. At Mountain View Estates, it’s safer to go out with security driving around and sidewalks on the street.”
Residents of the new park have access to public water and sewer systems, electrical service, wide paved streets, curb and gutter and interior street lighting – basic amenities lacking at Duroville. Additional features include a community center, clubhouse, soccer fields, volleyball court, basketball court, laundry facilities, playgrounds and gym.
Fifty families from Duroville are now living at Mountain View Estates, with 131 more scheduled to move in by the end of May 2013. According to Riverside County, approximately $28.4 million has been invested in the project from county funds, federal grants and private financing. The project’s completion and relocation of residents is a crucial component of the federal government’s plan to close Duroville, located on the Torres-Martinez Indian reservation.
Guillermo Alvarez, 23, also with Latino Health Access, said that the young residents have come to count on these twice-weekly activities.
“They already know we’re here Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we don’t even need to tell them, they just come over,” he said. “They’re happy, and they actually listen to us now, whereas before they were just running left and right.”
Alvarez added, “One reason is to just have fun, because they’ve just got out of a long day at school, but the other reason is to help them develop. One of the mottos that we have is that kids play, and adults exercise.”
On this Tuesday afternoon, Maricela, Diego, and their friends build their social skills by interacting with one another. They improve their hand-eye coordination by playing games and sports. They are exercising, without even knowing it, as they run around the field playing games and hurl water balloons at one another.
“Sure there are a lot of hidden benefits,” said Espinoza. “But in their eyes, the kids are just having fun.”