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DOWNEY – “I’ve been very lucky with my career.”
The words were those of Rotarian Darren Dunaway, who was born and raised in Arcadia, is the older of two brothers and has had no need of a long bio sheet. A graduate of Arcadia High School, he then obtained a bachelor’s in nutrition from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1994, went to work as nutrition director that same year for Bell Gardens-based Human Resources Association (which started originally as the Westminster Center, then later was known as the Bell Gardens Community Center), and didn’t let the year run out until he married his childhood sweetheart, Cindy, and has never looked back.
HSA was founded in Bell Gardens in 1940 as an outreach effort of the Presbyterian Church, when floods in the area “highlighted the pre-existing and growing problems of poverty” in Bell Gardens and surrounding southeast L.A. County communities. While HSA remains affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, all services have been administered on a non-sectarian basis since 1975.
Darren, who turns 44 next month, today holds the No. 2 position at the 73-year-old social services institution, the only firm (a nonprofit) he has ever worked for. He is its associate director, while also as director closely administering one of its three departments, HSA’s Senior Services Department.
HSA is acknowledged as one of the largest social services agencies in the southeast L.A. area, holding contracts with L.A. County, the state of California, outside agencies, and private foundations. It serves over 20,000 clients annually “with a range of services that addresses the unique and shared needs of clients of all ages.”
Darren’s Senior Services Department, among its other functions, provides free care management to help seniors 60 and over who have some physical and/or cognitive impairments access needed medical and social resources; provides a free comprehensive Medi-Cal care management program under its Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP) for elderly clients 65 and over who are encouraged to remain in their community (at home) for as long as possible instead of being placed in a nursing facility; provides an appropriate day care program for dementia-afflicted and/or socially afflicted elderly persons under its Alzheimer’s Day Care Resource Center (ADCRC); provides home-delivered meals (yes, this includes Meals on Wheels): a hot lunch is delivered to the senior’s home Monday-Friday (seniors must reside in Downey, Bell Gardens, Cerritos, Commerce, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, or Paramount); as well as provides hot lunches five days a week to all the sites (1500 meals/day @ 17 sites in ten cities) it serves under its congregate meals program even as it provides social activities. Other surrounding cities served under HSA’s other programs include Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood, Norwalk, South Gate, and Walnut Park.
All these programs are driven by the Older Americans Act of 1965 whose goal was to keep seniors healthy and active and keep them as far away as possible from having to seek institutionalized care which experts maintain in the end cost the government more.
These programs for seniors have been humming along nicely, according to Darren, until budget cuts undermined the programs. “Where before I could provide 190,000 meals a year, I’m now losing 18,000 meals with which to feed our seniors,” Darren said. “I’ve already lost three (congregate meals) sites, one in Lakewood, and two in Long Beach. With sequestration, where budgets will be slashed 8 percent across the board, I may have to lose another one next year. To stop the bleeding, I am meeting with the cities as to how they can help us with the funding, as well as seek grant money. These are at best stop-gap measures, though. We’ve also had to be more efficient.”
To put matters into perspective, Darren says Downey on the average has been getting 50 meals a day.
“Today,” he says, “we need to sit down for some serious assessment of the situation, and we need to focus on what must be done.”
He also experienced a little bit of luck one month before he assumed the presidency of the Downey Rotary in 2006, when he attended the Rotary International Convention in Copenhagen. With him was wife Cindy, a kindergarten teacher at the Glendora Unified School District.
“It was amazing,” Darren said. “We proceeded to Amsterdam, London, Paris. It was the trip of a lifetime. We’d like to go back if we can.”
He says, “Rotary’s motto, ‘Service Above Self’, is similar to HSA’s ‘Where Caring Becomes Doing’. It’s a nice tie-in. They have like-minded ideals.”
“When I was president,” Darren said, “I emphasized cohesiveness and getting to know one another better.”
Darren, 5′ll”, coaches baseball: he and Cindy has two sons-Jack, 13, and Drew , 12-and a daughter, Ella, 8. He says his Irish-German dad, now retired and living in Banning, was a P.E. teacher and used to coach football. His German mom, who died two years ago, was a bookkeeper. Glendora seems to be a favorite place to live: his brother also resides in the area, as well as Cindy’s brother. This provides for a lot of family gatherings. “We’ve always done stuff together,” Darren says.
Published: June 13, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 09