Someone San Diego Should Know: Manny and Mary Ann Aguilar

Community volunteers Manny and Mary Ann Aguilar have a purpose in life: “To create healthier families that can maintain their identity and achieve their goals while becoming self-sufficient.”

The Aguilars live in La Colonia Eden Gardens, a small Latino community in Solana Beach. Mary Ann loves her community and refers to “living in a bubble” surrounded by affluent communities, such as Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. Her grandparents migrated to the area, nestled upon Luiseno lands, during the 1920s and 30s to make a home and work in farms and ranches in Rancho Santa Fe and at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Historically this community has suffered a litany of social issues stemming from institutional racism and segregation. Mary Ann said she remembers her then-rural and segregated community in the 60s, the inadequate schools, inequality, racist policies and brutal police tactics. She recalls, “many residents who attended school in the 60s never learned to read and suffered corporal punishment if they spoke Spanish.”

Manny, a Navy vet, then stationed in San Diego, met Mary Ann in 1980. Manny, born in Chicago, has now lived in North County with his wife for nearly 42 years.

Mary Ann saw issues continuing in the neighborhood that she had seen growing up. To fight one of them, the couple started a group called Eden Gardens Against Drugs in 1984. The church, sheriff and some residents joined in the fight, she said. According to Mary Ann, “Drug deals occurred on every corner.” Their group experienced success, but issues of racism and inequality remained, she said.

In 2011, they formed a nonprofit called La Colonia de Eden Gardens, Inc. (LCEG Inc.). Respect, compassion and service are its guiding principles. It built a community garden and has provided seven summer camps for youth. “When we take the parents to the camp with the children, we see real change,” Manny said.

They have learned that community partners can really make a difference. UCSD Partners-At-Learning (PAL) students and St. James Mission Circle volunteers provide tutors for La Clase Magica, an intergenerational program where the youngest to the eldest learn together.

Manny and Mary Ann have now created the Parent Access for Student Success (P.A.S.S.) virtual program by collaborating with CEPI, at Whittier College, which addresses family and academic wellness. It provides parent training to access resources for their children and family, health seminars, a book club, meditation and goal setting. Zumba/weight training and art classes provided by a grant from the San Diego Foundation augment the program.

Private donors, the Coastal Community and Sand Dollar Foundation have funded the distribution of healthy, culturally relevant emergency foods and information about COVID testing and vaccinations. Families volunteer to serve and are building a healthier community, the couple said.

La Colonia de Eden Gardens, Inc. assesses the needs of the community as it changes. What is needed now is greater family involvement, Spanish resources for parents with autistic children, and support for women who have been sexually assaulted, the couple said.

“At 63, I am happy and extremely fortunate to be able to help people like my mother and grandmother who were treated so badly by racism. It’s amazing,” Mary Ann said.

Manny said: “It’s important to connect on a personal level to realize that we are one community. People can support with money, but also with a positive thought and a prayer. Everyone can give of themselves in their community and can say at the end of the day, ‘That felt good.’”

To find out more about their group, go to or on Facebook at LCEG.

About this series

Beatrice Zamora is a member of the Union-Tribune’s Community Advisory Board. She is a local author, community activist and retired community college educator.

Someone San Diego Should Know is a weekly column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.

If you know of someone you believe San Diego should know, please send your idea to [email protected]