Faith in Action, Protecting and Creating Vibrant, Healthy Communities
The Need: Grassroots Leadership in Low-income Communities of Color
Communities most impacted by health inequities are often not part of the conversation to identify the problems that impact their lives and their accompanying solutions. Public processes don’t always recognize the expertise of low-income people and people of color in policy decision-making. And, engaging in public processes also takes time and often English proficiency. Many low-income communities are strapped for time and some are not fluent in English to meaningfully participate in policy decision-making processes. Yet healthy communities require engaged residents whether in the form of volunteering, civic participation, or voting to collectively improve the quality of life of the community and the social, economic and physical factors that impact their health. People who experience disproportionately negative health outcomes are uniquely positioned to identify the circumstances in their lives that lead to health inequities and identify solutions to improve their communities’ health outcomes.
The Solution: Deep Community Engagement
Faith in Action (FIA) Bay Area’s project “Protecting and Creating Vibrant, Healthy Communities” engaged low-income people in a process to identify the barriers to community stability, vitality and health. The project took place in Redwood City, San Mateo, San Bruno, South San Francisco, Daly City and Pacifica. FIA staff trained hundreds of low-income residents of color to conduct community surveys and listening sessions to gather input from thousands of residents about their community health needs. The top health needs were identified as affordable, healthy housing, higher wages and quality jobs.
Participants gained skills and capacity to identify community health needs. They received training in messaging and storytelling and developing leadership in others. Most of the participants had never attended city council meetings or spoken in public. They are now teaching and training other residents, meeting with public officials to share their experiences, expertise and crafting their own solutions.
The Essential Ingredient for Success: Trust & Effective Messaging and Communication
An essential ingredient to the success of this project was close partnerships with trusted community institutions where residents were already engaged such as churches and schools. This provided a safe space for community participation and developing effective communication skills. When community members were able to effectively communicate their concerns, they motivated and engaged others in their solutions. The project opened up policy conversations on stable, affordable housing and improved household income. The echoing of their concerns in the public discourse made participants feel heard, empowered. The skills they gained through the project training efforts were invaluable to this success.
Challenge: High Housing Costs
Even as residents identified the cost of housing as a major barrier to health and community stability, several residents were displaced from their homes and had to leave the region during the project. Their leadership, voices and experience left with them. This was a roadblock to the project as leadership capacity and momentum were lost, as well as a loss to the community.
Looking to the Future: The Seed of Leadership
The project was dependent on the developed capacity of community residents and the teams and institutions they built within congregations and community collaborative organizations. These structures will continue to sustain the project and its outcomes in San Mateo County. Faith in Action is also working to secure additional funding from foundations to continue supporting leadership development, communication and expanded engagement in decision-making processes.