University Heighs anniversary celebration a hit; Baras Foundation happily celebrates 35 years
By Jessica Dearborn | SDUN Reporter
It was a beautiful day in San Diego Saturday, Aug. 10 – perfect weather to venture to historical Trolley Barn Park in University Heights to attend the day’s events commemorating the neighborhood’s 125 years of deep-rooted history, founded in 1888.
The mood was festive as the neighborhood was eager to embrace and celebrate the day, with vendors and guests alike.
Upon arriving, the slight breeze carried scents of succulent food that drifted by to offer unrelenting temptations vendors were proudly preparing. Great Maple, Big Front Door San Diego, Brooklyn Dogs Sabrett hot dog stand and Viva Pops were all present, among others.
Accompanying my senses were the bright colors of the Chinese dragon dance performers’ costumes, and the mesmerizing dance that ensued. Many other activities promised a fun-filled day. As the bands played, dancers gathered on the grass, with some donning attire that represented the earlier days of University Heights.
A bright red, 1935 replica trolley sat proudly in the distance to take guests for a ride; vendors laid out their wares and children played various games that offered amusement.
I spoke with Nan McGraw, a volunteer and former president of the University Heights Community Association (UHCA), who offered her insight to the growth over the years and what the day’s commemoration meant to her.
“I’ve lived here for 40 years; it is home to me,” she said. “It is the most cohesive community I have ever experienced. It is wonderful. The people are wonderful, they’re friendly, and it’s a work of love, working for the community.”
A founding member and current volunteer of UHCA, established in 1984, McGraw described herself as “more or less a booster, trying to keep things going.” She has been a fostering member, participating in movements such as lobbying the City Council for
Trolley Barn Park, the Vermont Street Bridge, improvements along Park Boulevard and landscape improvements around the neighborhood, only to name a few.
Trolley Barn Park officially opened in April 1991, taking several years to get funding for development. During that time, McGraw and other volunteers had a lot of help along the way, having established positive, working relationships with elected officials.
Currently, McGraw coordinates the production of over 4,000 monthly newsletters for the UHCA, which helped spread the word of the day’s event. The UHCA organized the day’s activities, including an art contest and vintage photography exhibit, heritage tour, lawn games and scavenger hunt. The live music by Gato Papacitos, Dixie Maxwell, Carlos Olmeda, John Hull and Gregory Page played all day long.
One of the many vendors present – and an official sponsor of the event – was the Baras Foundation. The Foundation was founded in 1978 by Carol Baras and her late husband, Bill, to give back to the community, Baras said. “We wanted to do a lot of good.”
Soon after, the Foundation began hosting call-in story-telling messages for children, called 291-KIDS. In 1993, they opened the first of many Baras Foundation Thrift Shops, located at 1455 University Ave. in Hillcrest.
Within a year, they had so many donations that Baras said they opened a new store every year for nine years. After her husband died in 2004, and as the store leases expired, they closed one store a year for eight years, keeping the original Hillcrest store open.
Now in their 35th year – and 20 years as a storefront in Hillcrest – the Foundation has been able to support various children’s programs including the Dimensions Scholarship Fund, The Oasis Institute, TERI, the Monarch School, Voices for Children and Friends of Alice Birney Elementary School in University Heights.
“Wherever there’s a need, we try to jump in and help,” Baras said.
In addition to the Baras Foundation, event sponsors included Great Maple, Wells Fargo, car2go, Save Our Heritage Organisation and OneRoof Energy.