Faces of Eagle Rock: A Facebook diplomat & public school defender, Virginia Escamilla does it all for the community

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Virginia Escamilla with her second grade teacher, Mrs. Morita, supporting the teacher strike in Eagle Rock, CA. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

In the “Faces of Eagle Rock” series, The Occidental profiles a member of the Eagle Rock community who was nominated by others for their positive impact on the local neighborhood.

Virginia Escamilla had lived on the East Coast and in South America, but when her first child was born, she knew she had to return home to a place she said will always be special to her: Eagle Rock. Escamilla’s family moved to Eagle Rock shortly after she was born, and she grew up going to Eagle Rock Elementary and High Schools. Since returning to the community that was so important to her as a child, Escamilla has found opportunities to share the love she feels for the neighborhood, including becoming a moderator for the over 12,500-member Eagle Rock Neighborhood Facebook group (ERNG), volunteering with the American Cancer Society (ACS), joining Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) at Eagle Rock public schools and volunteering at her church, St. Dominic’s.

Virginia Escamilla talks about her work in the community at her home in Eagle Rock, CA, Nov. 5, 2019. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

“I think throughout the years, and as a mom now, I strongly believe in the power of community and being involved in your community,” Escamilla said. “When we moved back here in 2004, little by little, I started getting involved in certain things and really just developed that mindset of building community.”

Escamilla was nominated as the Eagle Rock community member of the week by her husband, Hugo Albuja, and residents Tanya Onza and Sande Buhai. They all cited her advocacy, volunteering and commitment to both her family and Eagle Rock as qualities that make her a valuable member of the neighborhood.

Onza, an Eagle Rock resident of over 35 years and local teacher, said she met Escamilla when their daughters started playing on the same basketball team.

“I just think she’s such a great asset to Eagle Rock as a person, but also as a friend to me,” Onza said. “She’s so warm and welcoming, and she really helped out with the teacher strike as well.”

According to Onza, Escamilla helped teachers get resources such as nonperishable food and coffee during the strike and even opened up her house to anyone who needed a break.

“It was very meaningful to have her — not just to me, but my coworkers also really appreciated the fact that she was willing to stand out in the rain with us,” Onza said.

Onza said Eagle Rock feels like a small town to her because everyone knows each other and is willing to help their neighbors. She said Escamilla is an exemplar of this community-oriented mindset.

“If she doesn’t have an answer, she’ll help you look for an answer,” Onza said. “She’s got an attitude of service.”

Buhai, an Eagle Rock resident of 20 years, said she met Escamilla after getting involved in the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at Eagle Rock Elementary School. According to Buhai, Escamilla is a role model for persistence and staying hopeful. She said Escamilla’s positive attitude impresses and inspires her.

“She is always trying to work towards the good,” Buhai said. “Her smile just lights up the room, and she mostly smiles. I mean, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her not smiling.”

According to Buhai, Eagle Rock needs people who are willing to do these unpaid and sometimes thankless tasks, like moderate the Facebook group and get involved in the schools. Buhai said creating a sense of community can allow people to set aside their differences.

“We’re so polarized today across the country that being involved in your local community allows you to see that even if people have different viewpoints on issues — political issues or any issues — that still, they can be good people,” Buhai said.

Escamilla said she first started volunteering in Eagle Rock after helping her brother organize ACS Relay for Life events near Covina and Monrovia. She said she got a flyer for a Relay for Life in Eagle Rock and knew she had to help organize it. Eventually, Escamilla said she became part of the Relay for Life board in Eagle Rock and was able to learn a lot about neighborhood organizations.

“It became very interesting to me to know who did what — and I always try to look at it in terms of good relations, trying to get things happening in the community,” Escamilla said. “That’s where I started learning about how the community functions.”

According to Escamilla, she and her husband had agreed to settle down close to family, and since Albuja’s family lives in Ecuador, moving near Escamilla’s family in Eagle Rock was more feasible. She said she had also started feeling nostalgic about Eagle Rock and wanted her kids to grow up going to her schools.

After Escamilla and Albuja eventually bought a home in the Eagle Rock school district, Escamilla’s children were able to attend the same elementary school she did.

“I loved walking into the hallways, and they still smelled the same,” Escamilla said. “I don’t know how that works, but that whole vibe of the neighborhood was still there, and I cherish that my kids are able to experience that as well.”

Escamilla said she has seen the neighborhood change over the years. When her family first moved to the area, they were one of very few Latino families in the neighborhood. By the time she graduated from high school, Escamilla said her class had become much more diverse.

“It had changed in many ways I think,” Escamilla said. “But that essence of, ‘It’s a small town, it’s a community,’ but you have access to everything — the diversity, everything was still there.”

According to Escamilla, there are many other people who do important work in the community. She said she often takes on supporting roles in community organizing because she has limited time and family is her main priority.

“My husband and I both work. We’re parents. The kids are active with sports and stuff. So our time is limited,” Escamilla said. “What we try to focus on doing is supporting community and building community wherever we can.”

Escamilla said Eagle Rock is continuing to evolve as more students from Occidental College venture into the community and younger families move in. Like any community, Escamilla said the neighborhood has its problems. Moderating the ERNG, she said she sees some people who are antagonistic toward newer members of the community and homeless people.

“Get rid of that mentality of ‘us versus them.’ It drives me absolutely nuts,” Escamilla said. “There’s ways of expressing your opinions without trying to create that animosity towards each other.”

Once her kids are older, Escamilla said she hopes to take on more leadership roles in local organizations. She said she has always had a special love for Eagle Rock and that it is amazing to see her children get to experience the community. When her son was around 7 years old, she said he told her that he loved Eagle Rock.

“My heart melted,” Escamilla said. “I try to tell my kids that there’s going to be plenty of things in your life that you’re going to complain about — absolutely — that you’re going to be worried about, that you’re going to want to change … but be part of that change.”

If you would like to nominate a member of the Eagle Rock community to be profiled, please fill out this form: bit.ly/eaglerocker