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Leadership: Building Healthy Communities


Building Healthy Communities: City Heights
August 2011
Case study: Civic engagement focus of Gamaliel leadership training
SALTA leadership program gives neighborhoods a voice
Youth group selects sites, interviews AmeriCorps candidates
Momentum Team co-chairs to attend Collaboration Matters
City Heights Hope seeks to bridge generation, access gaps for Somalis
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Case study: Civic engagement focus of Gamaliel leadership training


Gamaliel is community organizing network in 18 states and world-wide. Its philosophy is based on building networks of supporters through intense one-on-one interviews.
"We believe that in democracy people have to be fully engaged," said Mary Gonzales, lead organizer and director for California and Hawaii for Gamaliel. "But we don't live in an environment where people learn to be fully engaged outside of going to vote."
U.S. residents are focused inward instead of engaging in local politics, she said.
"Too many of us think that we don't have much to contribute" and shrink away from public life, Gonzales said.
Barack Obama went through Gamaliel leadership training about 25 years ago, Gonzales said.
"He was one of those young people trying to learn how to train [community leaders]," she said.
Mid-City CAN Member Faiza Ahmed, School Attendance Momentum Team Co-Chair Iddo Gelle, Coordinating Council Members Jeanette Neeley, Armando Catano, Evie Kosower, Kristi Evans, Youth Council Leaders Deana Mercado and Grecia Lopez, and staff spent six days at Gamaliel National Leadership Training in July.
Mid-City CAN participants in Gamaliel training included Kristi Evans and Armando Catano.
SALTA leadership program
gives neighborhoods a voice


For City Heights resident Patty Saenz, having a family inspired her to sign up for a leadership training program to help her campaign for a cleaner environment.

Saenz, a Crawford High School graduate and her husband, a graduate of Hoover, are intimately familiar with City Heights.

That fueled "a dream of wanting to see a cleaner, better place for my daughter to grow up in," she said.

The Salta Program, which stands for Salud Ambiental Lideres Tomando Accion or Environmental Health Leaders Taking Action, is Environmental Health Coalition's leadership program that Saenz enrolled in.

Currently classes are being offered in National City. The classes began in late July and continue through September. They are taught in both in English and Spanish.

Teachers use role-playing, brainstorming and the Socratic Method, and each class begins with a meal. This is designed to both build community and be a time-saver for participants.

"We train community leaders in how to organize, advocate, and how to be great community leaders in their barrio," said Sarah Fuhrmann, Leadership Development Director at Environmental Health Coalition.

Environmental Health Coalition starts with candidates who already show leadership ability.

"A lot of our community residents are already leaders in their households," said Leticia Ayala, Environmental Health Coalition associate director for programs. "They have a lot of different roles, in terms of being parents, as well as being leaders in their neighborhoods, taking care of children in their neighborhood. They are just natural leaders."

Fuhrman explains the class is not the end of the process for participants.

"We teach them how to organize and how to advocate in what they truly believe their community needs to be a healthy community," she said. "And then we continue to work with them for years and years to continue to improve their skills as well as fight their fights."

Saenz expects the hard work to begin after class is over.

"I'll be knocking on my neighbor's door asking for their support and asking them to share their concerns and dreams," she said.

But despite the commitment, she feels the sacrifice will be worth it to her family.

"I think that anybody that has a dream of something bigger and better for City Heights should definitely take the SALTA program," Saenz said.

Environmental Health Coalition: Empowering People. Organizing Communities. Achieving Justice.

For more information contact

Sarah Fuhrmann

(619) 474-0220 x 166

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Youth group selects sites, interviews AmeriCorps candidates

Building Healthy Communities AmeriCorps Youth Planning Committee members finalized five sites and interviewed nearly 20 candidates for fully funded positions, according to committee member Angeli Hernandez. Hernandez is a resident of City Heights and leader in the Mid-City CAN Youth Council. The sites include three positions at the International Rescue Committee, one at the AjA Project and one at Crawford Community Connection.
The positions will be fully funded for two years in a partnership between AmeriCorps and The California Endowment and will focus on healthy youth development.

Momentum Team co-chairs to attend Collaboration Matters

From Aug. 24-26, School Attendance Momentum Team Co-chair Iddo Gelle and Food Justice Momentum Team Co-chair Fernanda De Campos will travel to Berkeley to attend a Collaboration Matters Health Leadership Conference.

The goal is to showcase the collaborative work of Mid-City CAN and learn additional tools and techniques for effective collaboration at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Gelle grew up in City Heights and is co-founder of Youth Empowerment Focus. De Campos is a resident of City Heights and works as Farmers Market Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee.

Fernanda de Campos

Fernanda de Campos

Iddo Gelle

Iddo Gelle



City Heights Hope seeks to bridge generation, access gaps for Somalis

City Heights Hope community organizer/project coordinator Sahra Abdi has witnessed the growth in leadership by members of her group first hand.
She tells the story of one group member who used to accept schools' lack of halal foods, which are sanctioned by Islamic law and ritually fit for use.
"She said, 'Ahh Sahra, this is America, you either follow what's provided or you go to another country,' " Abdi said.
A short time later, that same woman was talking about going to a higher-level administrator and advocating for halal food when the same issue came up in a hospital setting.
It's stories like these that have make Abdi believe that City Heights Hope members' have been transformed.
"People's perspective of their rights have changed," Abdi said.
The group has about 200 members. The California Endowment has funded it since 2009, and Mid-City CAN coordinates the grants.
This summer City Heights Hope ran a four-week program to help connect children to their cultural heritage and community, according to Bill Oswald, an adviser for the group.
"It covered culture, history, religion and poetry and strengthened the sense of who they are," Oswald said.
Somali college students organized the program. The students were inspired to act because they felt that one reason why Somali children weren't doing as well as they could in school and why too many were in the criminal justice system is that they don't have this grounding.
"The college students did it all," Oswald said. "They recruited the teachers and got a small grant."
About 70 elementary-, middle- and a few high-school students participated in the program, Abdi said. It was based in City Heights' Southern Sudanese Community Center.
Abdi's own 7-year-old son benefited from the program.
"He was questioning who he is," she said. "Now I ask what he is, and he says 'I'm Somali-American.' "
Another program designed to bridge generation gaps is cooking classes that are designed for mothers and daughters. However, the classes are currently suspended because of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year observed with fasting from dawn to sunset.
"In our community, parents didn't experience growing up in America," Abdi said. "They think it is easy."
The mothers teach their daughters to prepare traditional Somali foods and the daughters teach their mothers to prepare U.S. dishes that are halal.
City Heights Hope next project is an ambitious "participatory action" research survey aimed at health access, Oswald said. Group members will talk about their experiences getting health care and then use surveys to determine whether those same experiences are widespread in their community.
After the surveys are completed, group members will make recommendations to improve access.
The group is working to complete its health-access campaign plan by the end of the year.
 City Heights Hope community organizer/project coordinator Sahra Abdi
City Heights Hope community organizer/project coordinator Sahra Abdi is a resident of City Heights, member of Mid-City CAN, and past member of the Mid-City CAN Coordinating Council. City Heights Hope is composed of City Heights residents.
For more information, contact

The California Endowment

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