Doña Sonia strives to live a slightly more relaxed life by dancing and smiling./ Photo: Horacio Rentería/El Latino San Diego.

“It’s a release for us. I spent the whole year in the hospital due to stomach cancer – a tumor. I was there for a long time; I felt so down, so depressed. But the moment I come here, I forget I’m sick. As soon as I get home, I start feeling unwell again. So, this really helps me forget.”

Sonia Ruiz, a member of the “Los Girasoles Senior Club,” shared these heartfelt words while reflecting on the significance of the Norman Park Senior Center in Chula Vista, which has been a haven for her and fellow seniors for a year now.

“Then they tell you to sit down, that you can’t do anything, but if they could see me dancing,” she said with a smile that radiated happiness. Sonia used to work at Casa Pacífica and is now one of the cherished members who gather at the senior center.

“We’re inviting many people because it’s a haven for seniors.”

Attendees at the Los Girasoles Senior Club meeting at the Norman Park Senior Center./ Photo: Horacio Rentería/El Latino San Diego.

Former Activities Director at Casa Pacífica San Diego

We asked, “What did you do when you worked at Casa Pacífica?” Sonia Ruiz: I was the Activities Director. They called me the ‘Party Cheerleader,’ because that’s what they call people who love to party. We organized a lot of events and celebrations – Hawaiian dances, but mainly Mexican fiestas.

“We’d struggle to find a Mariachi for May 5th, to celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th, we sang the anthem, shouted ‘Viva México’; we had the flag and everything. We’d decorate with sarapes, Mexican hats. I tried to remind everyone: Just because you have a green card doesn’t make you American, I’d say; you’re Mexican until the end. We wanted to lift our spirits and feel less sick,” she explained.

Dancing is one of the best therapies for older adults./ Photo: Horacio Rentería/El Latino San Diego.

Reporter: Are you still battling cancer?

Sonia Ruiz: Well, you see. Next month, I have another endoscopy to check the progress.

Her younger brother passed away from the same illness, she shared.

Reporter: Let’s hope for an improvement.

Sonia Ruiz: Let’s hope there’s no problem. But my younger brother, a few months after his operation, had two tumors grow, and he passed away. That’s why when it happened to me, all my sisters were worried… But you know, bad weeds never die.

Sonia hurriedly resumed dancing and radiated her positivity despite the adversity posed by her illness. The words of Carolina de La Mora, the founder of Los Girasoles Seniors Club, echoed in the air. In our last interview, she stated:

“After the pandemic, it’s all pure happiness. We’re reuniting with all the friends we had before COVID-19. We’re starting over. Blessed be God for giving us the opportunity to be here, enjoying our senior years.” Her words couldn’t have been truer, as this organization emerged as a response from the seniors of South San Diego to the pandemic.

Women of various ages come to the club ready to respond to the emotional ravages left by COVID-19./ Photo: Horacio Rentería/El Latino San Diego.

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