Denise Obrero understood the power of stable housing early in her career and learned a deep respect for the elders and seniors in her family and community. The ability to combine these passions in her latest work with Community HousingWorks is an opportunity she welcomes.

The nonprofit organization develops, rehabilitates and operates affordable housing in San Diego County and California, offering programs, resources and services to help residents.

Last month, it was one of many local nonprofits that received grants from the San Diego Foundation for their efforts to improve the quality of life for older San Diego residents.

With a grant of $ 30,000, CHW is launching a one-year pilot program for people aged 55 and over in their housing communities to work part-time in areas that include education-related programs with children, health and wellness programs, and services that include food delivery or financial literacy. support for other elderly residents.

Obrero, 50, is the program director for the association and has previously worked as a teacher and in managing public funds to support developers of affordable housing. She divides her time between living in Golden Hill with her son, Kai Pele, and their dog, Chivo; and San Clemente to take care of his aging parents. She took the time to talk about the organization’s pilot program and how her childhood in Los Angeles in the 1990s and her previous work in education influenced how she approaches her today. non-profit work.

Question: Where did the idea for this kind of seniors’ program come from?

A: For some time now, we have been discussing the rapid growth of the senior population in San Diego and in CHW communities. We’ve taken a few steps towards our development goal to address this issue, creating several senior-focused communities over the past few years (including North Park Seniors, which specifically serves the LGBTQ population, as well as Mission Cove Seniors in Oceanside, and Windsor Gardens, which is a rehabilitation project in Escondido).

This initiative is really about the programs and services that we provide once these communities are built. All of our programs and services are designed to provide residents with a platform for success, and what it looks like for seniors is the ability to grow old in a safe, stable, and affordable home where they can rely on their neighbors and neighbors. ” engage in community activities that increase health and well-being.

Question: Why did your organization want to focus on employment, financial independence and reducing isolation?

A: In conversations about older people in our society, we hear that they still have a lot to contribute, even in retirement. There is a tremendous amount of leadership and energy that can benefit other generations of residents, while also giving seniors a way to stay active mentally and physically. There is plenty of evidence to support that decreasing isolation leads to better health outcomes, which means greater longevity and greater independence. We’ve seen a need with our after-school program, which really excels when we have part-time support to help the kids at each of our sites. This pilot project will test whether these two needs can be met with the same initiative, and to see how this might work in terms of providing additional resources to older people living on a fixed income, especially at a time when prices for so many things are increasing.

Question: How did your experiences growing up in Los Angeles and as a teacher in New York and Oakland influence the way you approached your later work in nonprofit organizations?

A: All of my experiences in North America and abroad have shaped the way I approach working in needy communities and educating my son. I am a compassionate, empathetic, tolerant and spiritual human being. The gang-related homicide epidemic growing up in Los Angeles had a profound impact, and I saw generational trauma in the communities I worked in. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a decision because in each of these urban cities, I learned a lot about myself. I am inclined to take risks and move into new areas because I love the challenges that come with not knowing everyone. I intentionally continued to work in a non-profit organization because I want to positively influence and make a difference by using housing as a platform for resident success.

What I like about Golden Hill …

I was drawn to Golden Hill because it offers one of the most historic and architecturally eclectic buildings in San Diego with many pre-1900s homes. It is centrally located and close to downtown. It’s a vibrant community of cool shops, restaurants and boutiques mixed with small family businesses that I love to support. The neighborhood is very accessible on foot and the neighbors are friendly. Golden Hill has the kind of vibe and diversity that reminds me of my childhood in Los Angeles and parts of the Bay Area.

Question: What was difficult about your job?

A: Our current housing crisis is clearly a difficult health problem. We are struggling to demystify and tackle ‘Not in my backyard’ attitudes, and we cannot build homes fast enough to fill our current regional housing gaps. Another glaring layer to this is the historical context. When we analyze federal housing policies in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a deliberate system of oppression targeting people of color. The federal government created the Federal Housing Association (FHA) to encourage home ownership. However, the long term mortgage loan opportunities were only for white homeowners. A red line has occurred in areas like Southeast San Diego, which have been designated as “dangerous.” If you are reading my story today and are intrigued to learn more about the history of subsidized housing, racial conventions and their role in housing segregation, please take the time to read “The Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of the Segregation of Our America Government ”by Richard Rothstein.

Question: What has been rewarding about this job?

A: Hear the lived experiences and stories of our senior residents. They embody genuine humility, grace and courage. For me, I feel the human connection with people who have the same dreams as me for their children and grandchildren. Since 1994, I have been working in this dynamic industry. My first career was teaching in urban cities and when I made house calls to my students’ apartments in communities like West Oakland, I saw with my own eyes that the opportunities begin with stability. housing. Seeing the smiles and successes of our residents has been the most rewarding part of this job. Knowing that neighbors are constantly taking care of each other – especially during last year’s lockdown – was truly inspiring.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: “The doors will close, the doors will open in your life” and “That too will pass. The wise counsel of my 78-year-old father helped me clearly recognize that a negative event or circumstance often leaves room for the start of something positive. In 1977, my parents took a big leap of faith and became small business owners in south-central Los Angeles. During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, I felt like the world was closing in on all of us. My parents embodied the resilience you need to continue with the residents. Our community came together and became collectively organized and stronger in many ways.

Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: People often ask me about my nationality. On my father’s side, his mother emigrated from Hermosillo, Mexico, and his father emigrated from the Philippines. On my mother’s side, her parents emigrated from Japan to Los Angeles (via Angel Island). In 1942, my grandparents lost everything they owned when they were forced into Japanese internment camps. When my grandparents and family returned from the Wyoming Resettlement Center, they helped create the tight-knit Little Tokyo neighborhood in downtown LA. There was a strong sense of belonging which provided continued support to the elderly and residents in need. Due to my multiracial background, I see the world from a multicultural perspective. My parents on both sides of my family instilled a deep respect for all elders and the elderly. Elders offer their life experiences and stories, and bring wisdom that is part of the fabric of our extended family and collective community.

Question: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.

A: It starts with a strong enough coffee and lounging in the garden patio. I would definitely like to (join) my two close friends from my UC San Diego days to get a body detox spa treatment at Karma Massage in Hillcrest. Then we would find a Korean barbecue or sushi restaurant to share a leisurely lunch where we usually ate and chatted for hours. That evening I was picking up my dog ​​and walking along Del Mar beach, watching the sunset.

On Sunday mornings, I like to read the print version of the newspaper and go to yoga in the park. My ideal day would be listening to podcasts and music from Common Kings Island, and maybe paddle boarding on the beach. I also like to stop by the Ecinitas Ecological Center and buy a box of farm fresh produce for the rest of the week. My weekend ended with a barbecue in the garden and the pleasure of spending time with my aging parents and son. We always try to plan Sunday dinners together.