Mayra, a senior at Lincoln High School, walked to school every day for several years on narrow and broken sidewalks, passing faded crosswalks and bike paths. During the summer of 2014, she decided to do something about it by getting involved in her community to improve the environment around her. While most students look forward to relaxing with no schoolwork during summer vacation, Mayra became one of eight youth from Southeastern San Diego involved inCommunities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention, a community engagement and improvement program better known as CX3. These CX3 youth devoted their summer to improving the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
First, the youth needed to learn what to look for when assessing their neighborhood environment. CX3 staff from the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s (HHSA) Central Region trained the students on how to identify barriers in their neighborhood that hinder access to healthy food and physical activity opportunities (such as unsafe street crossings for pedestrians and lack of healthy food options in stores). With a better understanding of their situation, Mayra and other CX3 students used “PhotoVoice” to document and communicate these barriers. PhotoVoice entails taking pictures of the issues in the neighborhood environment and using these along with photo captions to bring forth the community “voice” on what they must face on a daily basis and how it impacts them.
After their assessment, the students needed to get the word out to those who could bring about change. They shared findings from the CX3 Youth Engagement PhotoVoice Project with community leaders and decision-makers to tell the story of Lincoln Park. To do this, they leveraged broader community forums as a platform, including presenting their PhotoVoice findings at a community workshop on the San Diego Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Plan and at a local workshop on creating walkable and livable communities that featured national walkability expert Mark Fenton.
The students’ call to action caught the attention of a community representative from City of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office, who requested copies of the photos to send to the appropriate offices in City Hall and invited the CX3 youth to meet Mayor Faulconer and show him the pictures themselves. These photos have been useful tools to increase awareness of the barriers to a healthy, safe, and thriving Lincoln Park, such as walkability issues in the neighborhood. Further, the photos have sparked discussion among residents about how to work together to identify opportunities for future community improvement projects.
By the summer of 2015, soon after the youth met with Mayor Faulconer, the City installed multiple improvements, including repaving sidewalks and removing dangerous and illegal traffic obtrusions, to make Lincoln Park a safer, more resilient neighborhood, with increased opportunities for walking and biking safely to school.
Securing a school champion and recruiting students for the CX3 project were the biggest challenges presented by this project. Initial partners at the high school were very excited and supportive of the idea, but didn’t have the time available to work as school liaisons to ensure its success. HHSA Central Region’s CX3 staff persisted and it took several school visits to find a teacher willing to commit himself to be the group’s CX3 champion. Playing an instrumental role, the teacher recruited his students and offered classroom space for the group to meet after school.
After their successful PhotoVoice project, the Lincoln Park High School CX3 youth have shifted their focus toward making their school a healthier place to learn. With support from a science teacher and an engineering teacher, the CX3 youth spent the 2014-2015 school year building and launching “Lincoln’s Living Lab,” the school’s first garden. The students’ short-term goal is to maintain the school garden and get Garden to Café certification with San Diego Unified School District so that produce from the garden can go into the school’s salad bar. The long-term goal for sustainability is to integrate the garden into the science curriculum and create a greener campus by introducing composting and recycling rainwater for the garden. The students, champion teachers, school leaders, and HHSA Central Region CX3 staff are all excited about this next phase of their work to create a healthier community in Lincoln Park.
This material was produced by the California Department of Public Health’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch with funding from USDA SNAP-Ed, known in California as CalFresh. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. CalFresh provides assistance to low-income households and can help buy nutritious food for better health. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.CaChampionsForChange.net.