EL RIO : Volunteers Brush Up on Civic Pride

Armed with rollers, brushes and buckets of beige paint, 73 children and their families covered graffiti-scrawled walls in El Rio with fresh coats of enamel in an effort to clean up their community Saturday.

El Rio, north of Oxnard, has wrestled with graffiti and gang violence in recent years.

"It's getting pretty bad," said Manuela Gonzales, a parent and teacher's aide at Rio Real Elementary School, who was painting a wall along Rose Avenue with her husband and their two sons. "Maybe by doing this, some of the kids in the area will think twice."

John Lagomarsino, a fifth-grader at Rio Real, splattered himself with brown paint while running his roller over a brick wall. The 11-year-old said he came out Saturday "to clean up graffiti because our neighborhood is ugly--and I wanted to get dirty."

The cleanup project was started by the student council at Rio Real after 300 students voted to form a club called the Graffiti Busters.

The club, which has enlisted the help of local residents and businesses, plans to paint over graffiti in the unincorporated areas of El Rio, Nyeland Acres and Strickland Acres every four months.

El Rio resident Beverly Philhower, whose son, Frank, is in Rio Real's student council, proposed the idea and helped organize Saturday's cleanup day, which was kicked off by Supervisor John K. Flynn.

"It's just a good community effort," Philhower said. "You talk to most people who live here, they love El Rio."

Catherine Serros, a liaison from Flynn's office, said she was impressed with the number of children involved in the project.

"The community spirit out here is just amazing," she said. "This is like an empowerment zone."

Home Depot donated nearly $500 worth of painting supplies, the city of Oxnard donated paint, and Taco Bell supplied about $300 worth of food for the children, Serros said.

"This isn't a real wealthy area, so it would have been hard to raise money for this," she said.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department also provided extra units that patrolled the areas where the children were painting Saturday.

Frank Cruz, 12, a sixth-grader at Rio Real, wore a giant smile after helping to paint on Balboa Street and Rio School Lane.

"The alley over there was filled with graffiti and I walked down there 10 minutes ago and it was all painted," he said. "It was wonderful."

Frank acknowledged that taggers probably would spray-paint the walls again but said the club would respond accordingly.

"I think it will stay clean for maybe a month and then they'll be back out," Frank said. "But we'll be back. I'm almost sure we have more people than they do."

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