By Jasmin López | Special to Newsdesk.org
New community collaborations in Los Angeles are giving young people a leading role in improving their neighborhoods.
Youth are setting goals and organizing action in the Los Angeles communities of Boyle Heights, City Heights, Coachella, Long Beach, Santa Ana and South Los Angeles — many convening over a recent weekend for a meeting of the Building a Healthy Boyle Heights Collaborative at a local computer access and education center.
News about Boyle Heights tends to be about crime, but young residents see it differently.
“Violence isn’t the biggest issue in Boyle Heights. I see health as the biggest issue right now — lack of healthy food and exercise. Diabetes and obesity are big problems in our community. Seeing my dad struggle with diabetes motivates me to exercise everyday so that I don’t have those problems,” said Carlos Jimenez, a Building Healthy Communities youth leader and volunteer with Proyecto Pastoral, which provides low-income community services in Boyle Heights.
Participants also joined in the 22nd Annual L.A. River Clean-Up, attended workshops on social-movement history, media and “Organizing 101″ — and developed their own workshops and priority issues, such as “access to healthy food options” and “reclaiming public spaces,” for a statewide convening on June 24.
The program “has been very empowering for the youth and assists in helping change behavior that would ultimately affect their health. They are identifying issues and making healthier choices in their lives,” said Eric Hubbard, director of development at Jovenes, Inc., an organization working to bring opportunities to disenfranchised youth and families to become active and integrated members of the community.
Building a Healthy Boyle Heights is the collaborative of organizations working through this initiative to outline and prioritize outcomes for the community based on resident and youth response. Most recently residents selected the outcomes chosen by the youth as first priority.
“Being involved in Building a Healthy Boyle Heights, one of the lessons that I walked away with was that community efforts — while they seem very extensive and complicated — do work. When you work with the community and create advocates out of the community, they’re the ones that really make the choices that ultimately become the right choices for the community. They’re the ones that bring progress into the community,” said Lucia Torres, director of Proyecto Pastoral’s academic-support program.
Building a Healthy Boyle Heights project is a project of the California Endowment, which also provided some seed funding for the Los Angeles Toxic Tour via a pre-existing grant to Spot.Us. The Boyle Heights series is produced independently of any editorial oversight or influence from Spot.Us.