The Community Center at Houlihan Park in Planada was pretty much at the epicenter of the disastrous flooding last January.
The well-used facility — situated under the trees of a recently renovated park — was suddenly inundated with water and mud inside. All the projects created by and for local senior citizens were damaged or destroyed. Board games, chairs, tables, the kitchen — nothing was spared. This included the satellite offices of Behavioral Health and the Valley Crisis Center.
Once an example of Planada’s new focus on development, the center was left as a stunning reflection of loss and heartbreak, as residents escaped past it, some navigating knee-deep water, holding on to what family possessions they could carry.
It took eight months for those same residents to come back, and see the Welcome sign.
On Tuesday afternoon, Merced County leaders and local residents gathered to celebrate the reopening of the center. The facility was renovated at a cost of more than $400,000 — funding that came from insurance claims — and the hard work of staffers from five different departments within Merced County government, notably the Human Services Agency.
“This really is the heart of Planada,” said Supervisor Josh Pedrozo, one of the county leaders who showed up for the event. “It’s a big day for all of us. We are excited to be able to open the doors again.”
Participating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony were such dignitaries as County CEO Raul Mendez, HSA Director Yvonnia Brown, School Superintendent Jose Gonzalez, and representatives from the offices of Congressman John Duarte, State Senator Anna Caballero and Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria.
After the doors opened, about two dozen residents, mostly senior citizens, filed into a reception area to enjoy refreshments on a hot valley day.
It wasn’t what they said that was most memorable of the day. It was the smiles on their faces that expressed what they must of been feeling: hope and happiness after the storm.
Meanwhile, the road to normalcy continues. The fire station reportedly opened last week. Residents still have to travel to Merced or Le Grand to use the Post Office. And many residents, social workers and activists are anxious to receive $20 million in state assistance that was included in the governor’s budget earlier this year. The funding request by Sen. Caballero and Assemblywoman Soria was aimed to recoup lost wages, pay off back rent, repair homes and replace vehicles.