Last year, Jataun Valentine was a recipient of the second annual “L.A. Pearls Senior Citizen of the Year Awards,” which is given out by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office in each of the 18 Neighborhood Prosecutor Divisions.
This award honors senior citizens who make significant contributions to the neighborhoods of Los Angeles through the dedication of their time, talent, and experience.
Jataun’s dedication to her community is paramount in her 69 years of life.
“I like to keep busy,” she says. “If I’m not doing anything, I’ve got to find something to do.”
She says her mother, Hazel, daughter of Jenny Tabor of the Venice first family Tabor clan, inspired her.
“She was always helping, whatever she could do,” Jataun says of her mother. “I’m just following her role.”
Many people who volunteer are sometimes fussy about what they do. They’ll do this, but not that.
Jataun saw what needed to be done and was doing it for many years before she retired from her job at the Santa Monica parks and recreation department in 1999.
About 28 years ago, Jataun’s mother started going to the Oakwood Recreation Center for the center’s “nutrition program” lunches and to attend the Oakwood Senior Club.
Jataun helped out wherever needed.
Even when she was living back East for a number of years, she returned to Venice in the summer and in the winter for the Christmas party to help out.
Today, she continues to volunteer for the program that provides lunch to low-income seniors.
In addition, Jataun is the tour coordinator for the club and has organized more than 100 trips both locally and out-of-state for the seniors.
Outings have included bus trips to Las Vegas, cruises to Mexico, whale watching tours and trips to local museums, the horse races, the Arboretum, and Dodger stadium.
Jataun also personally provides transportation for seniors to medical appointments, grocery stores, and just about anyplace they need to go.
One of her favorite seniors to help is her second cousin, Navalette “Novie” Bailey — Jataun’s mother and Novie’s father were sister and brother — who is now the matriarch of the Tabor family.
“Novie’s a doll,” says Jataun. “I’ll do anything for her.”
Jataun also sees to it that the seniors are transported to voting poll locations and she arranges for candidates to speak to club members about issues that affect them.
She also has guest speakers to discuss diabetes and other health issues, AIDS awareness, substance abuse and any topic that might be relevant to seniors.
Before Jataun’s mother passed away four years ago, Jataun took her to the Braille Institute in Los Angeles because she had lost her sight.
“I was always helping them, so they asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer,” she says. “I still like working with the blind. I go there every Wednesday.”
Jataun was a member of the Oakwood Beautification Committee, which existed between 1988 and 2002, and focused on neighborhood problems such as graffiti and abandoned cars.
She was one of the founders of the now defunct Venice Neighborhood Action Coalition that helped seniors access the resources they needed to find affordable housing, resolve legal issues, and handle PACE (Pro-Active Code Enforcement) program violations so they could remain in their home.
“We started when they had the code enforcement,” she says. “We stopped that.”
For five years, until 2002, Jataun was a member of the Oakwood Recreation Center Park Advisory Board at the time it was involved with the center’s capital improvements.
She spearheaded the Senior’s Club involvement in the murals now at the center — “Oakwood’s Living Histories” in 2003 and “Unity in the Community” in 2005.
“Jataun is admired and respected by the entire community and she leads and inspires by example,” says Robert Haskins, former Oakwood Recreation Center director.
Jataun is on the board of directors of POWER (Parents Organized for Westside Renewal) that is a voice for low-income people in Venice, Mar Vista, and Culver City and deals with affordable housing and other issues.
“We got a traffic light on Braddock Drive near the school after there were several accidents,” she says, and “$1.5 million in affordable housing through the Mello Act last year.”
She has spent over 13 years volunteering with the Prison Ministry, where she brings holiday presents to children whose parents are incarcerated.
She also works with the Mildred Cursh Foundation at the Vera Davis Center in its program that distributes groceries to low-income seniors in Venice.
“Jataun is a great example of what kind of people we need in this world,” says Antoinette Reynolds, president of the foundation.
Jataun is on the board of directors of the Venice Community Housing Corporation (VCHC).
“Jataun works tirelessly to empower disenfranchised people, especially the elderly, to take control of their lives and remain active in the community,” says Steve Clare, Venice Community Housing Corporation executive director.
Initially, Jataun helped with the Handyworker Program that provides home repairs for low-income senior and disabled homeowners.
Several times, they were going to run out of money and the city wanted to stop the program.
She successfully mobilized a large group of seniors to advocate for funding and arranged for buses to take them to City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
“We went to City Hall and demonstrated to save that program,” she says.
And they won.
“The spirit and dedication that Jataun brings to our community continues to give a voice to those who would otherwise remain unheard,” says Terry Simons, Handyworker Program manager.
Jataun and her sister, Winola “Jackie” Smith, live together in their Oakwood home, which has been in the family since 1927.
They serve as co-captains of their neighborhood dealing in quality of life issues like trash in the streets and loud music.
Jataun strongly emphasizes that they do not get involved in crime situations. There’s even enough time for fun.
For as long as she can remember, Jataun has dressed up as the Easter Bunny at the Oakwood Recreation Center the week before Easter for an Easter egg hunt.
At Christmastime, she makes Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, who sit on her porch, and several nativity scenes in her front yard.
“It’s to remember what Christmas really is,” she says, “not just Santa Claus and candy canes.”
At Halloween she makes her own “dummy” people stuffed with paper and dressed in real clothes — five or six sprawled out on the lawn.
“One year a senior thought it was a real person,” she says. “I get over 100 kids for trick or treat because they know I’ve been doing it for years.”
It’s important to enjoy what you do — if you’re getting paid or not. Jataun certainly does.
“It’s the satisfaction of helping people,” she says. “A lot of people have problems, but they don’t know who to go to.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I try to find somebody that can help them. I think they want somebody they can trust and depend on.”
She would like to see young people get involved with seniors.
“They’ll see that seniors have a lot of knowledge and that will make them stronger and want not only to help seniors but want to help someone who needs help, no matter what the age,” she says.
Jataun is a role model to people, old and young. There is a life, a productive one at that, after retirement.
It’s never too soon, or too late, to give back and make a difference in your community.