By BRENDAN DRY
HIGHLAND PARK — Meet community builder and Highland Park resident Monica Alcaraz. One of the key players behind the newly opened shelter at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park, and the President of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council, Monica shares her thoughts on life in the neighborhood (and her love for The Rock).
How long have you lived in Highland Park?
Highland Park has been home for my whole life. I grew up here, went to school here, and am raising my kids here too. I have a lot of Highland Park pride–once a Franklin Panther, always a Panther!
What do you do for work?
I work as the regional manager for the Coordinated Entry System for homeless men and women in Northeast Los Angeles. That means it’s my job to connect people to housing options, and then the wrap-around services they need to stay housed. I went to school for nursing, worked for an alternative energy company for a while, but I really love what I get to do now. The fact that I get to work in my own neighborhood makes it that much more impactful. I’ve known many of the men and women I work with everyday for years. They’ve become a part of my neighborhood family.
Why did you get involved with the Highland Park Neighborhood Council?
Definitely not for the money! For some reason people think we get paid. Listen, we don’t. I got involved for the same reason everyone else did: we care about what happens in our neighborhood. I was invited to a board meeting by a fellow neighborhood council member. At that time, the board was small and I think had been struggling a little bit to keep people engaged. The president was stepping down around that time. Maybe because I spoke up so much, people were asking me to run for president. I was thinking, no way, I just joined! But in the end I decided to do it and here we are!
What do you love most about living and working in Highland Park?
I love the small town feel. I feel like I was raised by a village in the midst of a huge city. All of my friend’s parents were like my parents too. As kids, we would never make play dates. We’d just walk out our doors and play together all day. The other part of that is my cultural pride. I’m proud of my Mexican heritage. I want my daughter to know that we built this part of the country.
Has that community changed at all since you were young?
People who have grown up in the neighborhood can’t even afford to live here anymore. Because it’s such a great place to live, some people aren’t interested in building the community; they just see the opportunity to make money. That hurts the communal feel of the neighborhood.
What can Highland Park do to address the housing issue?
I think it has to come from the bottom up. People need to be educated about their rights as tenants, so they can advocate for themselves when the landlord raises the rent by 50% in one year or threatens to evict them for a higher paying tenant. We know this is the primary issue facing our community. The Neighborhood Council created a committee specifically focused on advocating for fair and equal housing.
What neighborhood mystery would you like answered?
There’s a local legend that the auditorium at Franklin High School is haunted by the ghost of a former student. Apparently, the student died at the school when she fell off a 4th floor balcony. I really love ghost stories so I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this one. So far, no one knows much about it.
Describe an “only in Highland Park” moment?
Right now, I’m spending a lot of time at the Homeless shelter in Highland Park that opened this December. The shelter has become an amazing community of people looking out for one another. It doesn’t matter how you look or where you’re from; everyone gets along. That’s Highland Park to me.
What’s your best celebrity sighting?
My son was really into wrestling when he was younger. He introduced me to The Rock, his favorite wrestler. Before any of his movies, I became a fan of his swagger in the wrestling ring. He had this cocky attitude. He didn’t take any crap from anyone; he would always give it right back. But more importantly, he overcame a lot of adversity to become successful so I always admired his drive and determination. I took my son to see him wrestle here in LA. Just as the show began and all the lights went out, I yelled, “I love you Rock!” and he yelled back, “I love you too!” I’ll never forget the night The Rock told me he loved me.
Brendan Dry loves telling the stories of the people and places that compose life in East LA. He is currently a student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and lives in Highland Park
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