Valley of the Sun Estates community hub a vision for Queen Creek resident

Queen Creek resident Mary Gloria at the sign showing where the Valley of the Sun Estates Community Center is to be constructed. (Submitted photo)

Queen Creek resident Mary Gloria meets once a week with residents of a San Tan Valley community to share with them life tips, such as on diabetes, cancer and nutrition.

They gather on a restaurant’s porch year-round, except in the extreme summer heat when walking to the site becomes out of the question.

“I meet with the women of the area. I meet with them in the little Salsa Lady porch, right in front of the barber shop. And so if it’s hot we meet; if it’s cold, we meet,” Mrs Gloria said.

“And sometimes we just decide, ‘Well, we’re not going to have it … because people walk there — it’s too hot to walk there.’ Some of them have their grandchildren with them. We just say, ‘If it’s way too cold, bring stuff to cover the children — little blankets or something — so they can sit there and listen to us,’” she said.

They could meet in a community center envisioned by Mrs. Gloria and which is the subject of a fundraising effort by the Pan de Vida Foundation, a nonprofit organization she founded.

The Valley of the Sun Estates Community Center is to be constructed on six lots. It would primarily serve about 1,300 people in a community bordered by North Sierra Vista Drive to the west, Surrey Lane to the east, East Skyline to the south and Rolling Ridge Road to the north, according to a project description.

Children and adults from surrounding communities would be welcome at the center, Mrs. Gloria said.

“There’s another area to the east and there’s people there that I think would benefit from what we have there, for the community center,” Mrs. Gloria said. “We want whoever is able — whoever needs it — to come.”

“The community center will provide a meeting place for local residents to unify their efforts and continue progress on building a thriving neighborhood,” Derek Dietze of the Pan De Vida Foundation, said.

“It will also provide a convenient location for health- and education-related services desired by the residents,” he said.

Pan de Vida Foundation

In the 20 years Mrs. Gloria has lived in Queen Creek, she has helped find shelter for migrants who were working in construction or citrus fields; partnered with the Town of Queen Creek to create a safe place for seniors to socialize, with the program now operated by the town; and organized health fairs and screenings, among many volunteer efforts.

The Pan de Vida Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded by Mrs. Gloria in 2008 and is managed by volunteers to meet the needs of the residents of Queen Creek and San Tan Valley. Pan de Vida — Spanish for bread of life — operates a neighborhood revitalization program, referrals for assistance and employment, health screening and fairs, holiday-assistance programs, has a Family Explorer Program and presents scholarships to low-income high school students, according to pandevidaaz.org.

The foundation’s next program is the 10th annual Pan de Vida Foundation cultural festival with a health, social and community fair. It is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Oct. 12, outside the Queen Creek Branch Library, 21802 S. Ellsworth Road.

Early beginnings

Mrs. Gloria’s first volunteer effort in the Valley of the Sun Estates area, then known as Little Mexico, was to help a family who was living out of a vehicle.

“Somebody called and says, ‘Hey Mary. There’s a car over here and there’s kids and family living out of it and they have a little room which they use for a kitchen. Do you want to go see and see what they need?’ I said, ‘Well, of course’ and so I went over there and I saw how they were living, I gave them blankets and food and then that was it — they wanted to stay there,” Mrs. Gloria said.

The area had puddles of water with mosquitoes and flies, dogs roaming the area, graffiti everywhere, she recalls.

“As I’m coming out, I’m thinking, ‘Gosh I’ve got to do something about this.’ And so I went out and after that I started talking to people from there and that’s where we went and started revitalizing the community,” she said.

Early efforts included removing a construction materials and general trash dump that, when it rained, littered the area with garbage downstream.

“I haven’t seen any graffiti in a long time and there is a paved road now. The trash dump that was in the back of the property has now disappeared because they put a basin there to hold the water when it rains,” Mrs. Gloria said.

“The other thing that we wanted really bad is to have this community center. We’ve talked to different people and they said that if we place something like that — a building there — then they could bring like a (health) mission over there or what if there were others like First Things First? They could come to it and we could have after-school programs, computers; we could have a place where seniors could socialize; a place where parents would have meetings for the community, because we’re at an unincorporated area,” she said.

Funds were raised to purchase the property. After that, the initial goal was for raising $550,000 for a 5,500-square-foot building on 1 acre on the west side of North Palm Drive between Santa Clara Drive and Red Bird Lane. That has been downsized to an initial need for $200,000 for a 2,000-square-foot, multipurpose community center at the same site.

It is to have three restrooms, two offices — one for private interviews — and a 35-foot-by-28-foot main room with movable partitions. A shade would be constructed on the west side of the building for outdoor activities and events.

“We just want to get in there. We want to get in there and have a small building that maybe the community would help to build so that we can just get in there and start helping the children to learn; helping the seniors to meet somewhere — to have someplace to meet; the kids to have a place where they can go to work on computers; and maybe also … teach the other people to be able to use the computers because I know that a lot of the ladies I meet there do not know how to use a computer. Maybe the younger generation knows,” she said.

The building could be expanded, she said.

“As we grow, then we would add to it and maybe it would be easier for us to be able to get money or grants or something as a result of now having the programs,” she said.

To donate, call 480-688-6326, email: mary.gloria@pandevida.tv or send a donation to P.O. Box 745, Queen Creek, AZ 85142. All donations are tax-deductible.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can and we’re not paid and no one is paid so any money that comes in will go directly to the projects or to the foundation,” Mrs. Gloria said.

In addition to monetary donations, volunteers are needed for the effort, including those in the construction trades.

“We would appreciate it if they would call us so that we could plan and know that we would have that job taken care of. For instance, if somebody wants their crew to come over and lay the cement for the flooring, how wonderful. What a great deed that would be. Or if somebody knows how to build, that they would help us to build this because it’s going to be a wooden frame,” Mrs. Gloria said.

An immediate need is for metal containers for storage. The foundation currently pays to store items including donations for its fundraising rummage sales, she said.

Community garden

In addition to the community center, the foundation has land set aside for a garden, so adults and children can work the land, Mrs. Gloria said.

“Especially for seniors and children, and of course the parents with the children, will be able to enjoy the planting and see their product — their fruit or vegetable — grow and then eating it. You know, food tastes best when you work at it and then you see how marvelous it is to have these little leaves come up and what have you,” she said.

It is to be constructed near Skyline and Camino Largo, according to a Facebook post @ThePandeVidaFoundation.

“We’re working on a garden. We have six lots — that’s where we are going to build the community center — and the county let us borrow about an acre and so we’re working on that,” Mrs. Gloria said. “It’s already been prepared, it’s already been fenced-in. We just need to finish putting in the water so that we can start. Hopefully for September we’ll be good, get going on that one,” she said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

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