Mia Acevedo caught the community’s attention in January, not so much for something she did but for something someone wouldn’t let her do.
The dustup started with a simple article in the Imperial Valley Press about how Acevedo, a 17-year-old senior at Southwest High School, was trying to raise money to purchase trees, flowers and other plants to spruce up the grounds at the Valley Convalescent Center in El Centro.
Acevedo had been a regular volunteer at the center over the previous six years, and over that time, she learned a number of patients believed the yard could use a facelift.
“The people who do live toward the windows of the backyard, they prefer to have the blinds closed because there are no plants or grass there,” Acevedo said at the time.
She set a goal of $2,500, and opened a GoFundMe account to start collecting donations for the project.
She’d managed to collect about $300 before the IVP article came out, and then all hell broke loose. It turns out owners of the facility were none too keen on having the grounds described is such blunt terms as a “dead environment.”
The center’s administration demanded that she compel the newspaper to retract the article or be permanently banned from the premises. However, the accuracy of the article was never in dispute, so no retraction was published and Acevedo’s privileges as a volunteer were rescinded.
The public was outraged. “It always breaks one’s heart to witness bullies who hide behind titles, uniforms, cassocks, badges, bank accounts, etc., and misuse the otherwise legitimate institutions they work for as their muscle,” one reader wrote.
El Centro City Councilman Tomás Oliva attempted to intervene on Acevedo’s behalf — unsuccessfully, as it turned out. But the City Council in February did present her a certificate of appreciation for her initiative and commitment to community service.
Acevedo said her status at Valley Convalescent Center hasn’t changed. “I haven’t been able to set foot in it,” she said. “I haven’t received any feedback from them at all.”
She still has the money she raised — about $490 in all — and is now looking for a comparable way to use it. She said she did reach out recently to Imperial Heights Healthcare and Wellness Centre in Brawley, but was turned down.
“They told me that it’s not something they’re interested in at the moment,” she said.
She’s also looking into possibly using funds helping add some landscaping at Memory Gardens in Imperial, a barren and largely neglected parcel of burial plots along Highway 86 that is known to include the graves of several military veterans.
In any case, she wants to make sure the money is put to the right cause. “It’s not my money,” she said.
As she neared high school graduation, Acevedo’s goals and ambitions remained closely tied to helping the senior community.
“I feel like a lot of our older generation doesn’t get the respect that they need,” she said. “They’re not appreciated as they should be. … I don’t think a lot of people understand the big role our grandparents have played in our generation and the opportunities we have.”
Acevedo is devoted to her own grandmother, Felipina Gomez, who helped raise her.
“In my family, everything revolves around her. … So if it’s Christmas, it’s, ‘Well, where’s our grandma going to be?’ If it’s Thanksgiving, it’s, “Where does she want to go? What house?’ and then we all reunite at that house. When it’s her birthday, everyone comes down or we go up there, and, you know, it’s always about her.”
And as far as Acevedo is concerned, that is as it should be. If she ran world — and who’s to say she won’t someday? — she would make it a rule that anyone in a convalescent home must be visited by at least one of her children at least once a month.
“That way the mother doesn’t feel like she’s disconnecting from her kids. … A lot of the residents, they forget who their kids are, and they confuse people like me who are volunteers for their kids,” Acevedo said.
If everything goes according to plan, she may one day have an opportunity to test this rule out. Acevedo plans to attend community college starting this fall, and upon earning an associate’s degree, she wants to transfer to University of California, San Diego or University of California, Los Angeles and study psychology.
Eventually, she wants to be a psychiatrist, but not just a psychiatrist. She wants to be a psychiatrist who eventually owns at least three convalescent homes. In fact, she has her eye on one in particular that is located in El Centro. We mentioned it here previously.
“Wouldn’t that be a plot twist?” she said.