“Virginia Avenue Park is my heart”: How Liz gives back to the community that raised her


As someone who spends a lot of her free time volunteering, Santa Monica social worker Liz knows a little about paying it forward in the community.

That idea of “paying it forward” can be traced back to her 10th grade year at Santa Monica High School, when she was the beneficiary of others paying it forward. A group of college-educated Latina women were hosting a youth conference aimed at encouraging younger Latina women to consider pursuing higher education and professional careers. Liz sat in a classroom during a career exploration session and listened to a woman describe her career as a social worker. She describes this as “magical” — the moment she realized that working with families was what she wanted to do with her life.

The importance of working with families was only reinforced by her own personal experience. She and her four siblings were raised by her loving and determined mother, who came to Santa Monica from Oaxaca, Mexico. The family experienced considerable adversity as Liz was growing up, including the early and tragic loss of one of her sisters.

Today, Liz has transformed that adversity into something meaningful, something that helps change lives for the better. In her role as Community Based Manager at Family Services of Santa Monica, she’s in charge of outreach and engagement. She advises and connects service delivery, runs parenting programs, and participates in a variety of community meetings and events. In this role, her interpersonal gifts and skills shine; she’s able to easily relate to families undergoing hardship, and she’s able to help them walk through that hardship until they get to the other side. It’s the kind of work that reflects Santa Monica’s highest values — and our goals of creating a stronger community that meets the needs of all its residents.

But Liz doesn’t just pay it forward through her career as a social worker. She also gives back to the community by volunteering her time.

Virginia Avenue Park: A Gathering Place in the Pico Neighborhood  

According to Liz, there’s never a dull moment at Virginia Avenue Park. It’s the bustling center of the Pico neighborhood and a hub of resources for greater Santa Monica. It’s home to over 15 service providers, the Farmers Market, parent groups, immigration forums, after-school programs, tutoring services, and community celebrations — many of which reflect the diverse culture of Santa Monica, like Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo, and Day of the Dead.

“Virginia Avenue Park is my heart,” Liz says. It’s a fact that’s made clear by the amount of time she spends there as Vice Chair of the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board. In this role,  she works to organize, facilitate, and participate in park-centered events that spur on both community and family well-being.

One of the things Liz is most excited about is the annual family college trip the Virginia Park Advisory Board facilitates each year. Families go together to visit southern California college campuses like UCLA, USC, Cal. State Channel Islands, and Cal. State LA. Liz says that including the family helps parents get comfortable with the idea of their children going to college, and inspires younger siblings to begin thinking about college too. It’s a great tool for first and second-generation families who may not have been exposed to the possibility of higher education before. As she talks about the college trip, one can’t help but be reminded of the women who encouraged Liz to pursue higher education and a meaningful career.

Paying It Forward

Liz believes that the most effective way to strengthen the community is by finding a way to volunteer that also speaks to your beliefs and values. There are opportunities to tutor students, work with senior citizens, care for animals at the shelter, or get involved with the CREST after-school enrichment program.

You can find out more about these opportunities, and other ways to strengthen the community — by joining us at weare.santamonica.gov.

You can also keep up with programs and events at Virginia Avenue Park by clicking here.