Lucia Diaz is well aware of the impacts that the Mar Vista Family Center can have on the education of youths in the local communities.

Not only has the Mar Vista Family Center chief executive officer been involved with the Del Rey nonprofit organization for the past 26 years, but her three children are also products of the center. After having attended the center, two of Diaz’s children have gone on to college and a third child is preparing for college, something that Diaz said has made her particularly proud as a parent.

The Mar Vista Family Center, at 5075 Slauson Ave., is an organization that provides child, youth and family services throughout the Westside. The center focuses on providing low-income families with quality preschool education, youth enrichment and educational tools to create positive change in their lives and communities, center officials say.

Founded in 1977 as a preschool for low-income families that aimed to encourage parents as partners in the education of their children, the Mar Vista Family Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

For Diaz, who first became involved with the center in 1981, the 30th anniversary is a time to reflect on the progression of the organization over the years.

“I feel a mix of emotions because over the years I have seen many children who have gone through the preschool become young adults,” Diaz said. “It’s a feeling of happiness and excitement and I’m also proud.”

The center will celebrate its three decades of existence with a community gathering scheduled from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday, September 29th, at the center.

Scheduled to attend the celebration are public officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who will recognize local leaders who have contributed to the center during a ceremony from 4 to 5 p.m.

Family Center staff and youths plan to raise funds for programs by selling a variety of food, drinks and desserts, including traditional Latino and American foods, fresh juices and homemade ice cream.

The event will also include games and activities for children, contests and prizes, as well as music performances.

Center officials say they expect to see many of the families that have been involved with the programs over the years and are also hoping that community members who are not familiar with the center will attend the celebration to learn more about the services.

During her years of service with the center, Diaz says she has been able to witness the growth of the organization. The center, which served six families when it originated in a local elementary school bungalow 30 years ago, now serves approximately 600 families.

Diaz noted that the center faced some troubles in its early days in the community, as it was created in an area that was then known to be home to local gangs. Only three weeks after the center’s preschool facility was opened in 1980, the building was burned down.

Following the setback, the founders of the center directed the organization on a path of increased community involvement and personal responsibility, allowing community leaders, parents and youths to have a larger role in the preschool.

“I think it has created an opportunity for personal development,” Diaz said.

Llaly Hernandez, who has been involved with the center for 12 years, thanked the organization for providing her the opportunity to meet and work with many people in the community.

The organization began with just four staff members but has since expanded to a staff of 32. Another significant change is that since 1986 all of the staff members are local community residents, Diaz said.

The chief executive officer has also seen the center’s annual budget grow from $92,000 in the beginning to $1.4 million today. The organization was 100 percent government-funded at its founding but it is now ten percent government-funded, with the remainder being privately funded, Diaz said.

Diaz cites funding as a primary challenge for the family center.

The center currently operates 21 projects under three main program areas — preschool, youths and community. Center officials said the additional services that have been added over the years have led to improved family functioning, decreased domestic violence and improved youths’ academic successes and rates of attendance in college.

“You see more and more of our kids changing their lives and going to college,” Diaz said.

The center is now working toward the construction of its Youth Center, which is to include recreational and educational departments such as arts, music and dance.

Officials have applied for a $1 million grant to help fund the construction of the Youth Center, which is also proposed to have a workout room, a multipurpose room and a library.

Information, (310) 390-9607.