While I am finishing up my last year in UC Irvine’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, I hope to be a lifelong student of planning and engage with community groups to learn what the needs of the people are. Meeting with the people who come together to make change happen through voice and action is something that inspires me to pursue a career in planning.
On February 26th, our UC Irvine cohort visited the Latino Health Access (LHA) building in downtown Santa Ana. LHA promotes not only physical health, but also social, emotional, and mental health through support groups and programs for children and adults living in the 92701 zip code. Several promotores (members of the community who have been hired and trained by LHA to facilitate programs and collect data for research) spoke to our group about their experiences and how they stay motivated to be engaged and encourage engagement in their communities.
From my studies at UC Irvine and my personal experiences, I have found that community activism and engagement is difficult, especially when there are barriers to civic participation such as fear of deportation, English-language-only public notices and meetings, and the formality of the city systems that often discourage community members from participating. Thankfully there are organizations such as Latino Health Access (LHA) who work furiously to include all members of the public in decision-making.
The visit with Latino Health Access further emphasized how planners can make a difference.
We can help a woman, who is in an abusive relationship and has a mentally disabled child, feel empowered to share her story and make changes to better the lives of others in her community. One of the promotores who we met came from this situation and is now a leader of LHA support groups and an integral member of the organization.
We can help a community member with a passion and vision for healthy foods and local markets become an advocate for urban gardens. Recently, the City of Santa Ana passed a resolution partnering with LHA to find land to create an urban garden for public use. These people found that they can change their Santa Ana to be representative of their needs.
Meeting people who live in communities of poverty and inequality and talking to them about how they have the motivation and enthusiasm to get involved brings a new meaning to what really matters and how I can get involved. Understanding how people live and engage with their community is not only inspiring to me - it’s an essential ingredient for shaping my vision as a planner.