Grass roots group targets improving farmworkers’ health.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Lupita Miranda and Ulises Foronda want to reclaim their neglected neighborhood park from prostitutes and drunks and turn it into a gathering place for children and families. The residents of Roosevelt Townhomes in East Salinas are close to achieving this: The Community Foundation for Monterey County has committed $30,000 toward new play equipment and the city of Salinas is planning to throw down more than $140,000 in federal funds for another playground and more street lights in La Paz Park. More funding could be on the way.
“The place will be utilized by good people,” Foronda says in Spanish. “It’s going to be difficult for people who are deviant to enter that park.”
This grassroots effort is an esteemed offshoot of Poder Popular, a California Endowment-funded initiative working to empower farmworkers in the Salinas Valley for nearly five years. Alisal, Salinas’ poorest and most densely populated part of town, along with Gonzales and Greenfield, have been test cases for an elaborate network of committees and councils tasked with improving farmworkers’ health. With the grant money running out at the end of February – the Endowment has invested $6.7 million since 2004 – leaders are discussing how to sustain the model, made up of regional, town (concilio) and resident (asamblea) levels.
Nick Sandoval, senior program coordinator for Poder Popular, says the Roosevelt Street group’s independence is proof that the approach is working and the same project could be duplicated in other parts of Salinas. “That really shows us that the group is taking its own autonomy and running,” he says.
The park revitalization is the only concrete project that Poder has developed in Salinas. Rev. Frank Gomez, who has been a part of the Salinas concilio for about a year, says the process was slow going. He questions whether the goal of empowering people to raise their voice at City Hall was achieved: “I’m not too sure that we actually accomplished that.”
Gonzales seems to have had better results. The city recently had a groundbreaking for a project to install lights in Centennial Park so kids can play baseball and families have a place to walk after sundown. Gonzales Mayor Maria Orozco says community involvement in government has skyrocketed thanks to Poder, and that the asamblea members are able to effectively reach out to their neighbors. “When we have public hearings, this is the group that is the voice,” Orozco says.
Gonzales, like Salinas and Greenfield, has developed a Health Action Plan to guide outcomes, from creating safer routes to school to increasing affordable housing. Pesticide awareness has also been a goal. Poder Popular organized town hall meetings with the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and uses more than 250 trained health promoters to educate farmworkers about diabetes, heart disease and reducing pesticide exposure, says Lauren Padilla-Valverde, the endowment’s program officer for East Salinas. “They are a voice now in Salinas thanks to the effort of Poder Popular in bringing to light these pressing environmental issues,” Padilla-Valverde says.
Poder hasn’t helped develop sweeping pesticide-policy changes, like in Tulare County, but the endowment’s work in the Alisal is far from over. Stakeholders are developing a strategic plan for a 10-year initiative called Building Healthy Communities, which will be implemented in 14 areas, including East Salinas. Just as Poder’s grant runs out, this new endeavor, with lofty goals including reversing childhood obesity and reducing youth violence, will start up.