Community Hero: White Sands residents see activities director Pat Guerrero as a ‘wonder woman’
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone into lockdown, senior citizens — a population deemed among most the vulnerable — were hit especially hard.
But at White Sands La Jolla, activities director and move-in coordinator Pat Guerrero made it her mission to make sure those in the senior living community didn’t feel alone and forgotten.
The La Jolla native came up with online-based activities and gatherings, dressed up for every holiday (even Bastille Day) to personally and safely deliver items to residents, and sought to bring joy to everyone she encountered.
Outside of work, she partners with a San Diego-based homelessness outreach group to donate food, clothing and other items throughout the year.
“She’s a wonder woman,” said White Sands Residents’ Association President Anita Holmes. “She always has balls in the air. She helps people move in at the same time she’ll help residents build Christmas trees out of pine cones on Zoom. And she does it with contagious enthusiasm; she is so upbeat all the time. When residents are around her, they feel it. She’s a real treasure. She’s one of a kind.”
Resident Anne Spackman, who nominated Guerrero for the La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series, said: “I [wanted her to] be recognized for the spark she adds to the lives of White Sands residents, whether via fabulous field trips, home-baked goodies or Zoom wine and craft sessions. She is constantly creating ways to enable seniors to have the best experience possible.”
When asked about Guerrero, new White Sands resident Bev Grant said: “Which Pat Guerrero? There has to be four of her, she does so much!”
When Grant was moving in, Guerrero helped with “all the snafus” that come with moving, she said. “She kept track of everything that needed to be done and things that were missing from the apartment. It made the transition devoid of the anxiety that could have been.”
And now that she’s there, Grant takes advantage of all the activities Guerrero arranges.
“[Guerrero] understands that we are in lockdown, but we can still have a lot of fun,” Grant said. “She recently had carolers on campus to sing to the different areas. She is having a violinist come and travel across the campus. When Day of the Dead came, she put photos of our loved ones that have passed on an altar. On Thanksgiving, she found a branch and we all wrote down what we are thankful for and tied it to the branch. It promotes positive thinking. She’s an all-around good human being.”
One activity that has taken White Sands by storm is the weekly “Wine and Crafts with Pat,” in which Guerrero delivers small bottles of wine and supplies for a certain craft and then hosts a craft party on Zoom.
“What better way to make little old ladies happy than to give them a bottle of wine and crafts?” Grant joked. “We get to see friends on Zoom, drink wine, glue things with a glue gun and I get to put the finished product on my counter. We get silly and giddy with her. She knows how to bring good cheer.”
But Guerrero’s attention to the residents didn’t start with the pandemic and won’t end with it.
“It’s an honor to work for them and with them, and they bless me every day,” Guerrero said. “They are such amazing residents, so interested in so many things and so loving and kind, who wouldn’t want to make them feel valued and loved? That’s what I want to do.”
Having grown up in La Jolla, Guerrero was a member of the philanthropic group Las Patronas and was a Girl Scout troop leader for her daughter in Bird Rock. She’s been at White Sands for 13 years. During that time, she would organize outings to local and regional theaters, museums and other places of interest.
“We would be out 10 to 12 times a month before the pandemic, doing things the residents wanted to do. With COVID, everything has changed,” Guerrero said. “It has been challenging to find ways to keep them connected in their room. I see providing them a way to live their best lives possible is what I have been called to do.”
Several residents noted that Guerrero often would wake up early and bake scones or muffins and make fresh coffee to have on the bus during the field trips.
“I like to do the extra things because treating others as I would want to be treated is important to me,” Guerrero said. “Plus, because of them, I get to see every play, concert and museum in San Diego. I thought I knew what was in my own backyard, but I really got to explore by organizing these trips. The fact that they are so appreciative, how can you not want to do your best for them?”
The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. Nominations for this holiday season have closed. ◆
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