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Connections make Westside a tight-knit community
Saul Franco, 3, gets a push from his mother, Martha Franco, at Columbia Park on Wednesday. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal
Three-year-old Saul Franco squealed with joy Wednesday afternoon as his mother, Martha Franco, pushed him around and around on a vertical swing at Columbia Park. Saul’s 3-month-old sister, Brianna, watched her mother and big brother play with wide eyes from her cozy stroller a few feet away. Franco said that she brings her children to Columbia Park every day — well, every day that the sun is out.
The Franco family were not the only ones enjoying the park on Wednesday. Along with the children taking advantage of the park’s newest playground equipment, there were about 25 young men playing a game of pick-up soccer in the large grass field that makes up the center of Columbia Park. Another dozen indoor soccer players were practicing their sport in the adapted tennis courts just to the west of the grassy field, and a half dozen younger boys exchanged jump shots on the park’s basketball court.
The popularity and diverse use of Columbia Park is just one indicator of a vibrant and active community on the Westside of Turlock. While the residents of the Westside sometimes have more challenges than residents in other parts of town — statistically, people living on the Westside have a greater chance of being a victim of a crime and the area’s roads are some of the worst in the city — there is also a feeling of community that is rarely seen in other neighborhoods.

A Westside story
Linda Murphy-Lopes grew up on the Westside, the child of Mexican migrant workers and one of six children, she did not learn to speak or write English fluently until the age of 11. As a child, she remembers watching the television program “Leave it to Beaver” with her brothers and sisters and, not knowing English, wondering where the man carrying the leather box went every morning and why the woman cleaned and cooked wearing make-up and high heels.
Murphy-Lopes eventually not only learned English, but developed a thirst for knowledge that caught the attention of her teachers. One teacher in particular, Palmira Olsson, took an interest in Murphy-Lopes and made sure she was given the opportunity to learn everything she could. According to Murphy-Lopes, Olsson even went to her house and convinced her mother to excuse her from baby-sitting duty so she could go to the Carnegie Library for one-on-one tutoring. Murphy-Lopes said at the time she was amazed her mother and grandmother agreed, although they both were supportive of her education.
“They didn’t understand exactly why, but they knew if you go to school, it would totally change your life,” Murphy-Lopes said.
The personal attention of her teachers, and support of her mother and grandmother, eventually led to Murphy-Lopes realizing her dreams and going back to school. As the mother of two young children, it was a struggle she said, but Murphy-Lopes prevailed to earn a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Stanislaus.
Murphy-Lopes’ passion for learning continued to drive her and she soon earned a master’s degree. She has been an educator — teacher and then administrator — for over 15 years at Cunningham, Wakefield, Osborn, Dutcher and most recently, Julien schools.
Murphy-Lopes is an active advocate for better education for all of Turlock’s children, but especially those on the Westside.
“The easiest thing I can do is extend my experience and language to families and students,” Murphy-Lopes said.
She is proud that her two children — who both attended schools on the Westside — were able to finish college and pursue professional careers at a much younger age than she was. Her son holds a doctorate degree and is a laser physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her daughter has a bachelor’s degree and is working on getting her teaching credential.
Murphy-Lopes credits her professional success — and the success of her children — to the personal connections that were made by family members, educators and community leaders throughout her life.
She strives to pass on that personal attention to as many children as possible.
“One thing, hopefully, I have been able to do is make connections with kids and, hopefully, families,” Murphy-Lopes said.

Living on the Westside
Personal connections are also what keeps former Turlock Unified School District trustee and mother of two Tami Muniz on the Westside.
“We help each other out on the Westside,” Muniz said. “We watch out for other people’s children. What I realized as an adult and raising children over there is the old adage, it takes a village.”
Muniz moved to Turlock in the second grade. She attended Cunningham and Osborn schools. Then when she grew up and got married, her first house was on the Westside and both of her sons went to Cunningham. Muniz said that while she knows there is more crime on the Westside of town, she feels the good on the Westside outweighs the bad.
“I don’t think, as a community, we face different issues,” Muniz said. “We all face drugs and violence, the difference is we see it a lot more in our neighborhood.”
Recently, the Turlock Community Collaborative, CSU Stanislaus Office of Service Learning and Spanish-speaking advocate group, Vision y Compromiso, hosted two “community conversation” events at Osborn Elementary School. The goal of the meetings, according to event organizer Hugo Ramirez, was to “bring people together and be in conversation.”
While the first meeting, held in English on Jan. 19, did not draw even one community member, the second meeting, held in Spanish on Jan. 21, saw a group of around 30 show up to discuss their community.
Vision y Compromiso facilitated the discussion, which began with broad questions posed to the assembled group such as “What is a community?” and  “Where do you find your community?” and progressed to more specific discussion on what actions people could take to improve their personal circumstances and that of their neighborhood.
Juanjo Hernandez came to the Jan. 21 meeting, along with his wife and children, to “hopefully learn more about employment resources.” Angelica Carranza and Leticia Barrios also attended the event looking for more information on social and financial resources.
Almost everyone at the meeting expressed the desire to strengthen the bonds that make them a community by increased communication and a desire to reach out to their neighbors and the government and nonprofit organizations in Turlock.
While the problems those who live on the Westside encounter will probably continue on to the foreseeable future, those important personal connections that make the Westside the unique community it is will also endure.
“We pray al ot and keep extra eyes on our family and neighbors,” Muniz said.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.