BRENTWOOD -- It seems straightforward enough: Help organize programs for seniors.

But for Cheryl Ortiz, it goes much deeper than that.

"My job is to create activities that are purposeful, social, spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual. The residents need me and I need them," said Ortiz, who is the programs director at Brentwood's Cortona Park Senior Living.

Ortiz is also a fitness instructor at several area gyms, and even in that arena, she finds herself drawn to the elders in the group.

"I have a passion for people ... (and) a special passion for senior citizens," she said. "My joy is to keep them moving."

While her delight is motivating and moving seniors, Ortiz started on a different path.

The Trinidad native found her way to Brentwood via the City of Lights and the Big Apple.

In her teens, she toured with her country's folk performance group throughout the Caribbean, London, France and the United States.

In the early 1970s, she moved with her family to New York and scored a lead dance role in a Broadway musical with Eartha Kitt.

"She was a wonderful role model and taught us how to cook good food in a wok and how we should treat each other with love and respect," Ortiz recalled. "The dancers and singers filled her dressing room between shows as she shared her delightful vegetables with a little sip of Courvoisier cognac with us all."

When the show closed, the group toured through the nation for a year. She followed that up with a modeling stint in Paris and Milan.

Last summer her performing roots resurfaced with roles in "Oklahoma!" and "Brigadoon" with the Brentwood Community Theater.

She moved to East County in 2001, jumping quickly into the fitness field.

That is when she met Brandi DiMercurio, who encouraged her to become a certified instructor.

"She is one of the most beautiful spirits you will ever meet," DiMercurio said of Ortiz. "Just coming into contact with her brings a peaceful feeling."

For the last few Octobers, Ortiz has hosted an annual Party in Pink Zumbathon (with Karina Dugand) to raise funds for breast cancer research.

She credits her love of life to her family. "Being born in the Caribbean and surrounded by a loving mother has been the source of my love for people.

"People keep me positive and passionate. Even if I come into a class tired or even struggling through a difficult moment, I look around the room and become inspired by the faces."

She knows what she speaks of because in 2007, her husband suffered a heart attack and stroke -- and, still she pushed forward.

"I taught throughout the entire process," she said. "I feel more connected to people because of my trials.

"I want people to leave my classes encouraged ... (and) feel the love I am so willing to share."

Contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net.