Down time? Not for Laurel Civic Association executive director Sandra Terry, who for 30 years―the first 11 as a volunteer while working a full-time job―has been the guiding force behind building houses, paving roads, installing sewer systems and feeding and caring for thousands of children and the elderly. Terry, who will turn 70 in January, is driven to better the community in which she was born and raised. “If I see something that needs to be fixed, I have this overwhelming urge to fix it,” she says.
“I live across the street from the house where I was born. My dad came here in 1929 when he was 9 because his father worked on the railroad, and my mom came when she was 3. She grew up in the turpentine quarters, which is now Mission Valley. It was a black neighborhood, with a church, a school, a graveyard. When it caught fire and burned, everyone migrated this way.”
“We were so poor we didn’t even have our own outhouse. But everybody helped everybody. It was community. I grew up around some of the smartest people I know, and I was always allowed to be who I was.”
“We started [building and rehabbing] houses in 1997. There was no water or sewer from Laurel Road [south] to Spencer Avenue. The roads weren’t paved, and the sides of the streets weren’t mowed. We built houses, had the water line moved in, had a retention pond added. Every time it storms here and there’s no water standing, that’s amazing to me. My parents thought they’d never live to see the day―sidewalks and paved streets!”
It Has To Get Done
“I’m usually at the center 12 to 14 hours a day, on the weekends maybe six, seven or eight hours. We have a small staff, and you have to get it done. We serve about 500 children with after-school homework assistance, a summer reading program, a summer teen program. We feed 75 kids every day after school. And we serve 1,000 adults, too, with a monthly USDA food distribution, scholarships, Season of Sharing, etc. I didn’t think about the things I’ve done; I was too busy getting them done.”
“I have three children; they all graduated from Venice High. My daughter is a resource officer there. My son is head carpenter for traveling Broadway shows. I have five grandkids; they’re good kids.”