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Education and involvement precede community ownership Patty Chavez | Sat, Feb 11 2017 12:00 PM

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) along with parents and partners continue to move forward with a pipeline of services to support and strengthen academics and the whole community of Castle Park.

Modeled after County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency program, the CVPromsie Resident Leadership Academy 18-week course helps build leadership capacity and supports participants in enhancing their understanding of local government systems, advocacy, policy development and civic engagement implementation.

“It’s an intense curriculum and a lot of hard work,” South Bay Community Services President and CEO Kathryn Lembo said. “Now they have the foundation to get more involved in their schools, city and in other aspects of their community.”

From speaker training to diverse session topics to panel discussions with local leaders, academy participants work together to gather information, learn new skills and identify three areas of concern. At the end of their training, participants ultimately offer solutions using evidence-based strategies they’ve learn through the academy to help make a positive change at a neighborhood level.

Ten participants completed their training last week. Family members and various community leaders attended an evening graduation ceremony and community forum. Academy participants shared their experiences, findings, and details of their community improvement project. They also received a certificate of completion and recognition certificates from the Office of Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher and City of Chula Vista.

Lembo along with Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, Julio Rivera representative from the office of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, Community Health Improvement Partners Senior Director Dana Richardson and representatives from the City of Chula Vista and Chula Vista Police Department attended the celebration.

“Your voice is important,” Lembo said during the opening of the celebration. “But the way to get a voice is by educating yourself, making sure that you are knowledgeable about the issues in the community and then joining with other people to make things better in the community.”

Mayor Casillas Salas has been a workshop panelist for both academy cohorts and has attended both graduations. She presented this cohort with a Proclamation from the City of Chula Vista.

“Citizen engagement is an important part in building strong neighborhoods,” Casillas Salas said. “The Resident Leadership Academy is a great program that empowers neighbors to take action to make our city better.”

Academy graduate and Chula Vista Resident Ofelia Martinez said that the academy has taught her more about various community needs and how to work together to address them.

“The information alone has been very empowering,” Martinez, who has children in both Castle Park elementary and Castle Park Middle School, said. “Sometimes we don’t know even what number to call except for 911.”
Martinez shared that initially she was nervous about attending the workshops but now it has helped her connect with her community.

“Sometimes we live in our neighborhood, but we are not really part of the community,” Martinez said. “Now I am confident about not just helping at helping my schools but our community. I am so happy.”

That evening the group presented their ideas for three community improvement projects. The projects were developed based on the groups belief that it is often difficult to enjoy their neighborhood due to safety issues, lack of community communication between neighbors and lack of access for physical activities.

“By improving these areas of concern,” Resident Gabriela Abdon, whose children attend Castle Park Elementary and Castle park Middle, said, “we hope to prevent isolation, anxiety, depression and help our children social with the outside world.”

Based on this Abdon said, the group has been working to develop three important projects: Neighbor Day, more lighting in our streets, and installation of commercial bike racks with safer bike lanes.

Inspired by an event created in Jackson, Mississippi, the proposed Neighbor Day would create an opportunity, at least one day of the year, for neighbors to meet and socialize. It may include organizing a potluck to simply knocking on a neighbors doors and introducing yourself. The group said this would help create a sense of community and support that is lacking in some neighborhoods.

Neighborhood safety was also designated as an area of concern, namely the lack of street lighting in their neighborhoods. Resident Rosa Robles, whose son attends Harborside Elementary, shared nearly pitch-black evening photos of the neighborhood.

 “We want to work with our partners to promote the implementation of street lights and or replace existing ones that are no longer in good condition,” Robles said. “We believe this will help increase the general well being of families by creating a safe environment where people feel comfortable walking in the afternoon.”

The final project focuses on creating a bike friendly environment.

 “We want to increase then umber of bikers by expanding the accessibility of bike racks all around our neighborhood,”

Resident Silvia Mendez, a Castle Park Elementary parent, said. “Our community is interested in biking to and from school, to parks, to go shopping and just for recreation,” Mendez said. “However, our parks are not bike friendly.”

Mendez said to achieve this goal, they will need to partner with all sectors including city, business and faith based leaders and nonprofit organizations.

According to Mendez, the next steps for this group is to expand their relationships with their neighbors and grow their coalition in order to execute their projects. They also will continue to meet with city employees, attend council meetings and stay connected on issues that deal with public works and repairs.

“It’s just the beginning,” Abdon said.

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) is coordinated by South Bay Community Services and is proud to partner with Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High

School to bring new opportunities and pathways of success for their students and families. For more information, please visit CVPromise.org or call 619-422-5005.

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