"She said they just didn't have the money to pay us," Torres said. "There was no other explanation."
Miguel Sanchez, 33, worked for Parks and Recreation from September 1994 to December 2008, when he and more than a dozen others were laid off due to budget cuts, he said.
Sanchez said he earned about $10.50 per hour. He wore several hats, teaching basic computer classes and working at the Bell Community Center on Pine Avenue, mostly on weekends if the space was being rented out for a birthday party or other event. Mostly, he ran an afterschool program at Woodlawn Elementary School.
Between 30 and 70 children attended the program depending on the time of year, he said, and were offered a variety of programs, including help with homework and arts and crafts.
Just before Christmas 2008, City Hall eliminated the program and two others. After he got laid off, a supervisor asked Sanchez to return to Woodlawn after the holidays to break the news to the children.
"I refused," he said. "I didn't have the heart to tell the kids."
In 1984, the shoe company where Del Villanueva had worked for 20 years went bankrupt, forcing him into retirement at 60 — a little earlier than he had planned.
As the years passed, he got antsy and began volunteering for children's programs and community centers in and around Bell, where he lived. In 2005, at the age of 80, he accepted a job at Bell City Hall to do maintenance at city parks and help run the afterschool program at Woodlawn.
The job paid a little over $9 an hour, but "there was a lot of satisfaction" and "parts of the job that were worth a lot more than money," he said.
"It was very greatly needed," he said. "You have to understand the basics. It's a very important thing in a kid's life."
Like Sanchez, Villanueva lost his job when the program was cut.
About the same time, the city scaled back other recreation programs, including a baseball league and city-sponsored cheerleading program.
Carlos Parra, 43, said he took a squad of about 10 girls in 2000 and within eight years turned it into a thriving cheerleading program of about 160 boys and girls. The Bell Sapphires traveled from San Diego to Las Vegas and won championships for the city, Parra said.
On Christmas Day in 2008, Parra learned that he was to be laid off.
"It makes me sad, and mad," he said. "I live alone, a single person, I have to pay my rent, I'm barely making it through life — and they're sitting on their butt making all that money."
Times staff writers Jeff Gottlieb and Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.