The many faces of the recreation center

This unique community draws many different types of people with love and commitment to the growth and betterment of one another.

The Lafayette Recreation Center is a home to the community of Westlake and a safe place for children and adults alike to be active. The recreation center sits right next to over 8,500 square feet of ledges, benches, rails and stairs specifically set up for skating, a turf soccer field, a children's playground and two basketball courts for the community to use. Partnered with Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), the recreation center was remodeled in 2011 to change it from a senior center into a fully equipped center to provide the community with the resources that they need. HOLA provides ‘underserved youth’ with free programs in academics, arts and athletics. The program’s goal is to get children away from gang violence and not beneficial influences and into recreational activities that promote growth in a positive way. The partnership with the recreation center helps to achieve that goal.

The Lafayette Recreation Center is only one of four recreation centers in the area, but it is special because it services and employs a unique community. Recreation Assistant and Event Coordinator, Darlene Moran, has been working at the recreation center since she got out of high school. “I was attending HOLA as a high school student. I started volunteering at this recreation center and then they offered me a job,” said Moran.

The center offers tai chi, basketball, soccer, ballet, yoga, karate, Zumba and physical conditioning. Moran says the most popular programs are the basketball and soccer teams. The children love to be a part of the clinics that the center hosts. Moran says that the children never forget the people that teach them how to play their favorite sports. Jeff Melendez is a 15 year old high school student that has attended a couple of basketball clinics and is grateful to have the chance to get better at the sport he likes to play. Melendez goes to the recreation center every Saturday morning to play basketball with his friends. “I just like being with friends and [the recreation center] gives us a place to come and have fun and play basketball,” said Melendez.

The Westlake community places a big emphasis on after school programs and opportunities for children to get involved in for exercise and sports because they recognize the importance that it has on development. Moran believes that the people in the community believe they do not have a lot of resources, but she wants to make sure they know that they can come to the recreation center to have a safe space to learn and improve themselves. “The community here is so special. This area is very unique. Everyone here is just trying to better themselves,” said Moran.

Director of the Lafayette Recreation Center, Rocio Contreras, also knows how special the Westlake community is even though she did not grow up here. Contreras is from East Los Angeles, but hears stories from her staff about the evolution of the center and how it has impacted the community. “The center helps to assist the community since they, themselves don't have very many spaces. This is the only urban space that they have around here. They can get out and have somewhere to exercise, go to programs and special events,” said Contreras.

Moran enjoys working at the recreation center, but has a dream to start her own nonprofit to continue helping the community. She wants students to have access to sports and help with academics so that they can forget a rough past they may have had and have a brighter future. “Around this area, I see that a lot of kids, sadly, have a criminal background. They think that there are not a lot of resources for them, but there is and I want to promote them,” said Moran.

Contreras’ favorite part about working in Westlake is being able to meet all the diverse people and help them. “The diversity is amazing here. There are a lot of ethnicities around here. We are really close to Korea town so we have a lot of different generations using the facility,” said Contreras. “We have the seniors and younger kids which is a nice mix of everyone.”

The Lafayette Park is unique and popular because of its skatepark. The skatepark has benches, rails and ledges that skaters can use to have fun with their friends and perfect their latest tricks. 32 year-old Orlando Gravely has been skating since he was 12 and loves it because it is free and open. “It's open for anybody: all races, all ages, all genders and it opens my mind up to new things,” said Gravely. The skatepark is not just a place for skaters to skate it is a community where kids can come and bond with others that have the same interest. Most kids said that they came to the skatepark everyday. Skating is a huge way the children of the Westlake community stay healthy.