Cudahy Tech Center reopens after New Year’s theft

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

CUDAHY — The Cudahy Tech Center is back up and running, holding robotics and science classes, after being hit by burglars on New Year’s Day.

The center is operating with six donated computers plus three large television screens used to display the work of a few students enrolled in robotics coding classes Mondays through Thursdays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Emma Hernandez, chief executive director of the Southeast Community Development Center, said that the tech classroom would be open at full capacity by the summer, offering three tech and robotic classes with an expected enrollment of 45 students every two weeks. 

However, getting the center back on track and preventing another burglary has proven challenging. 

Currently, staff in charge of robotic coding load the computers in their cars, unpack them at the center before each class, and pick them up again at the end. 

The community center lacks police presence on the ground to discourage lurking criminals from trying to break in again, Hernandez said. 

She said the city already installed security cameras inside and out of the building, promised to revamp alarms linked to the Sheriff’s Department in all doors and windows, and replace old, vulnerable doors as part of a program to turn the facility into an emergency shelter. 

The security improvements already helped avert another heist, as someone broke in through the building’s kitchen door March 5, activating the alarms and summoning sheriff’s deputies to the scene.    

This time, nothing was stolen but the suspects are still at large. 

“We installed our own alarm inside the center,” Hernandez said. “We also have two sets of cameras, one outdoors and two in the classroom so we can record who comes in and who goes out. They have [wireless] codes activated by staff to monitor who is authorized to enter and to exit.” 

Meanwhile, the nonprofit director said she contacted a Cudahy City Council member asking for deputies to patrol the area more often, and reached out to the neighborhood watch group asking them to be vigilant and report suspicious activities near or in Lugo Park, where the tech center is located.

While visiting parents of children at elementary school, Hernandez noticed that some are afraid to get involved in roles to defend the community. 

Hernandez said that neighbors willing to stand up against crime told her that they often witness cash payments inside the park and adults dealing drugs. 

“Families are distrustful,” she said. “I spoke with many to invite them to be vigilant [for] our center because we teach their children, so that we can protect them too. Several moms were afraid to speak to me. There are barriers in the community.” 

The Southeast Community Development Center is a nonprofit organization that runs two other learning centers in Bell and Bell Gardens for children to study science, engineering, technology and math, and for adults to learn how to work on computers and navigate the internet. 

Leaving Lugo Park Center is not an option because Cudahy does not have many public facilities with office spaces, and the STEM program is highly critical for children from low-income families to have a better academic foundation, Hernandez said.

“I don’t feel that we have enough police patrolling the area,” she added. “I want to stay in the community and take back the park, instead of moving out.”

In an email, Cudahy Mayor Daisy Lomeli said that the city has taken additional measures to prevent future break-ins, including increased police presence, and upgrading security systems inside and outside the facility.

“The city is also procuring new, durable reinforced exterior doors,” Lomeli wrote. “Staff will be proposing a contract for private on-site security to monitor facilities during non-operating hours. 

On the evening of Jan. 1, thieves ransacked the classroom located i the Lugo Park Community Center and stole 14 laptops furnished with software for robotics coding, two large flat screen television monitors and office equipment valued at $25,000. 

After the theft, the Cudahy Tech Center received two contributions of $5,000 each, one from the city of Cudahy and another from county Supervisor Janice Hahn. The center also received nearly $1,000 in donations from community members during a fundraiser, and $14,000 from insurance coverage.  

Cudahy Tech Center teacher Amada Olvera, said that so far three students have enrolled in robotic classes since the center reopened Feb. 6. 

Olvera said that the center is already preparing for a busy summer session. 

“We expect that some of these kids are going to come back after regular school classes end the first and second weeks of June,” Olvera said. 

Among the brand new items featured in the refurbished classroom are two large flat screens hooked to a wall and one mounted to a wheeled metal frame, and dozens of hand sanitizer bottles and facemasks stashed on a shelf. 

The thieves did not touch boxes with pieces to assemble small robots and packages with gadgets to build them in because they likely ignored what they were, Hernandez said. 

Hahn said in her newsletter that despite the loss of $25,000 in tech equipment, the community rallied to support the classroom’s reopening. 

“Now, young people from Cudahy and across Southeast L.A. County can get back to learning the latest in technology and math,” Hahn said. “These opportunities are readily available in wealthier communities. Kids in [Southeast L.A.] deserve the same.