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Mid-City CAN Blog

Policy: Building Healthy Communities


Building Healthy Communities: City Heights
October 2011
Co-chairs, youth council members, residents to present at conference
Past Coordinating Council Co-Chair recalls 'community-owned change'
Case study: Crawford Dreamers see California Dream Act as first step
School team pushes Crawford past 99 percent Tdap compliance
Mid-City CAN Coordinating Council elections are coming Dec. 13
Meet the grantee: City Heights CDC wants to pave the way to safety
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Co-chairs, youth council members, residents to present at conference

A dozen co-chairs, youth council members and residents are flying to Washington, D.C., to present at the American Public Health Association's 139th Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The trip starts on Oct. 30, but the group isn't immediately coming back after the conference ends. Members are planning to meet with Bob Filner, U.S. Representative for California's 51st congressional district, and Susan Davis, U.S. Representative for California's 53rd congressional district.


Attendees include

  • Access to Health Care Momentum Team Co-Chair Shukri Adam
  • School Attendance Momentum Team Co-Chair Iddo Gelle
  • Food Justice Momentum Team Co-Chair Jennifer Chandler
  • Youth Council Member Angel Quintero
  • Youth Council Member Angeli Hernandez
  • Youth Council Member Marcos Olascoaga
  • Youth Council and Coordinating Council Member Rosa Olascoaga


Past Coordinating Council co-chair recalls 'community-owned change'

Colin Mathewson
Colin Mathewson

Colin Mathewson remembers being co-chair of the Mid-City CAN coordinating council during a huge transformation.


Mathewson, 30, who served as Price Charities Community Advocate from September 2007 until April 2010, understood that joining Mid-City CAN would be helpful to him on a professional and personal level. So he did and quickly became co-chair, from February 2008 to April 2010.


"It made my job more fun, more efficient and productive," he said.


But he added that there was more to it than that.


"It wasn't just about getting to know each other, but how do we work together, too," he said.


During that period he remembers two major changes that shaped Mid-City CAN into the organization it is today: hiring Collaborative Director Diana Ross and the beginning of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative.


"It was a really exciting time," he said.


Kevin O'Neill, the previous collaborative director, became the director of Integrated Neighborhood Services at SAY, San Diego, which is Mid-City CAN's fiscal agent.


"One of the things that [O'Neill] thought was important was to empower the Coordinating Council, partly because he was just so busy he needed help, but also because that is really part of what the collaborative is about -- building more ownership," Mathewson said. "It is not about Mid-City CAN or Kevin, but there is this larger thing going on that is about community-owned change."


Mathewson believes that adding Ross helped Mid-City CAN become more attractive as a hub site for Building Healthy Communities.


"The fact that we were relatively strong, that we had someone like Diana, who was really good at consensus building and mediation," gave the organization an edge, he said.


She was inclusive and believed in making decisions and establishing a plan through consensus and by involving more community members, he said.


Also at that time, the Building Healthy Communities Initiative process became the main focus.


"It transformed the organization in so many ways," he said.


Other projects that the Coordinating Council focused on during that period were trying to increase membership, diversify stakeholders and work on bylaws.


"I certainly felt useful and part of something important and valuable, so I continue to be grateful for that," he said.


Mathewson currently is in his second year of seminary. He and his wife are studying to become Episcopal priests in Tennessee with their 10-month-old child.


Case study: Crawford Dreamers see
California Dream Act as first step

Sheila Mitra-Sarkar

After Oct. 8, a group of Crawford Educational Complex students are a little closer to their dream of attending a four-year college.


But undocumented students like them suffered a big setback before they got there.


"My junior year when I found out I was undocumented, I found out I was completely different from everybody else," said Victor Alvarado, 20, who is now in his third year at San Diego City College. "I felt different and I shut myself down from school and started doing horrible, my grades completely dropped."


In December, national legislation called the DREAM Act, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who served in the military or got a college degree, was defeated in Congress. DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, and California recently passed a series of laws that address the education aspect of the defeated Federal legislation. On Oct. 8, the state passed a law that will allow undocumented students to apply for state financial aid starting in 2013.


For Sheila Mitra-Sarkar and the Crawford Dreamers, "it's a huge day," she said. "It's a huge opportunity."


Mitra-Sarkar is the project director of the group that started in March. Alvarado is student mentor for the group. The group's goal is to build capacity for undocumented students.

"We'll be a strong advocate as we build," Mitra-Sarkar said. "What we want to build first is self-esteem. When the self-esteem is there, we'll go for the advocacy."

The California Endowment funds the group.


Mitra-Sarkar originally became interested in helping undocumented students because of Mid-City CAN house meetings, which brought together nearly 1,400 residents of City Heights to learn more about the lives of average residents. The meetings revealed that many residents felt that the struggles of undocumented residents were a critical issue.


"It is so stigmatized," she said. "It is also lack of knowledge, lack of information."


For students that stigma can be even more severe.

"I'm not picking on any counselor," she said. "I'm not picking on any school, but generally speaking nobody is giving them time of day. Because once they know they don't have Social Security [numbers] they are bottom of the list for everything."


Today is the group's first meeting during this school year. Last year the group had six or seven core members, and it is hoping to attract 20 people to its first meeting, she said.

For Mitra-Sarkar, trust building is key. After all, many students have been hiding their undocumented status for most of their lives.


"To be able to sit together in a group and discuss that, ... and to be able to speak to each other freely has been huge," she said.



School team pushes Crawford past 99 percent Tdap compliance


The School Attendance Momentum Team wanted to make sure that Crawford students weren't kept out of classes, and that the school didn't lose money because of the state's "no shot, no school" rule.


The rule is a California law that requires all 7-12 graders to get the Tdap shot, which includes a vaccine for whooping cough, within 30 days of the start of school. School attendance is directly tied to school funding.


"At Crawford, every day is a battle with the budget being really tight," said School Attendance Momentum Team Member Faiza Ahmed.


For Crawford Educational Complex students, the deadline for Tdap compliance fell during the first week of October.


To make sure that students and parents were informed, team members distributed information to students at Crawford Educational Complex during registration week, Ahmed said.


Group members also met with County of San Diego officials to try to find exact numbers of students who did not meet state requirements,


The diversity of the momentum team made it more effective in calling parents with children who were still in the noncompliant category shortly before the deadline, Ahmed said. The group discovered that many of these students had received their shot, but had not shown proof to the school yet.


The school now reports that only 9 students are not compliant with the new law -- more than 99 percent of the students have met the requirements.


The principals at Crawford were grateful for the group's help, especially with staffing levels low due to state-wide budget cuts.


Principal Diego Gutierrez sent out an email thanking the team on the school's email lists, said Momentum Team Co-Chair Iddo Gelle.


And for the momentum team it was a gratifying win.


"We don't want attendance to go down," Ahmed said. "And it shows how strong we are as momentum team. There is a lot more we can do as a group."

Mid-City CAN Coordinating Council elections are coming Dec. 13


The Coordinating Council is the governing body of Mid-City CAN and its projects. The Coordinating Council is responsible for setting the overall strategic direction of the Collaborative; including policy and fundraising.

To vote in the 2011 Mid-City CAN elections, you must be a registered Member of Mid-City CAN no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 8. There will be no new members accepted between Nov. 8 and Dec. 31. Mid-City CAN will resume accepting members at 9 a.m. Jan. 2, 2012. To become a member please complete the membership form by clicking here.


Meet the grantee: City Heights CDC wants to pave the way to safety

50th Street and University Avenue
University Avenue and 50th Street is now safer to cross because of high-visibility crosswalks and signs. City Heights Community Development Corporation wants to train residents to advocate for improvements like these. Photo courtesy CHCDC


All different types of road users from bicyclists to walkers, young to old, transit-riders to drivers can face dangers and obstacles in City Heights.


"Many of the sidewalks aren't even really sidewalks in City Heights," said Randy Van Vleck, active transportation manager for the City Heights Community Development Corporation. "They are driveways," he said, referring to the design of Huffman, six-pack apartments where drivers cross the sidewalk to access their parking spaces.


Addressing safety issues like these for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users is the mission for the City Heights CDC as a partner in the Built Environment Team collaborative. The group also includes International Rescue Committee, Environmental Health Coalition and Proyecto de Casas Saludables.


It is funded by The California Endowment. Mid-City CAN is the City Height's hub, which helps coordinate local grantees.


The four partners are collaborating on a leadership academy in February to teach residents to advocate about issues like unsafe streets.


Each organization will pick at least a dozen residents that will be a part of the nine-week academy.


The resident team members are going to learn about the history of City Heights, land-use policies, and how to advocate on different issues, Van Vleck said


"The real vision that binds the active transportation team is this: We believe all different types of road users, bicyclists, walkers, pedestrians, kids, elderly, motorists, transit riders, should be able to get where they need to go safely, healthily, and with convenience," he said.


Van Vleck says the transformation of 50th Street and University Avenue is one example of a relatively inexpensive change that can make the streets safer.


Community leaders convinced members of the City of San Diego's traffic engineering department that rather than blocking the crossing with a fence at the intersection it should be made safer to cross with high-visibility crosswalks and other traffic calming devices, including signs.


"The street should be designed for all users," he said. "That's what a complete street is - a street that works well for everyone and is safer for everyone."


City Heights CDC is also interested in promoting green space.


"The fact that City Heights is one of most park deficient areas in region means that kids don't have anywhere to play," he said. "So they play on the sidewalk. The ball goes out in the street. They run after the ball in the street. They get hit by a car."


Statistics back up the idea that lack of space to play and streets that aren't pedestrian friendly is a deadly combination - especially for children.


Van Vleck said a report that came out about 2 years ago found that within the span of 4 years 114 kids were struck by motorists within a quarter of a mile of a school in City Heights.


However, despite these challenges, Van Vleck sees opportunity in the area.


"We also know that City Heights has the highest transit-ridership in region, and also the lowest automobile ownership in the region," he said. "City Heights has a lot of unique things going for it that could make this place a lot better for all users to get around."


City Heights CDC is completing the draft of the Full-Access Community Transport System, or FACTS, study that focuses on the Colina Park neighborhood.


"The No. 1 community demand was a walk-able, bike-able neighborhood," he said. "And that makes sense because actually Colina Park out of all the neighborhoods in City Heights has the lowest automobile ownership."


Randy Van Vleck
Randy Van Vleck



The California Endowment


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