What started as a small pilot project has burgeoned into a successful training program for hundreds of residents of San Diego County. The Resident Leadership Academy (RLA), first created by the County of San Diego Public Health Services through a contract with Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP), is a ten-session training for neighborhood leaders that prepares participants to identify barriers to health, safety and well-being in their communities and then work collaboratively on community improvement projects to remove those barriers. Over 40 RLA trainings have been conducted throughout the region, offered in various languages, including Spanish, English, Vietnamese, and Arabic.
Recently, CHIP conducted RLAs with members of the San Diego refugee community as part of their ongoing collaboration with the County of San Diego’s Community Action Partnership, which administers programs for low-income and refugee populations. The first of three Refugee RLAs was conducted in partnership with Newcomers Support & Development (NSD), an organization dedicated to helping newly arrived refugees learn about and navigate American culture, including healthcare, transit, education and civic engagement. The RLA was held in El Cajon with a soccer team made up of ten men and boys recently resettled from Iraq. This training, conducted with Arabic translation, utilized an expedited curriculum over the course of four days.
The team encountered barriers to practicing and playing at local parks; they either needed permits to play at night or did not have access to public parks with extended hours to utilize after dark. Unfamiliar with local policies and practices, the team was not sure how to deal with their concerns. Information taught at the RLA helped educate the team to work collaboratively with local systems and representatives to find a solution to their barriers. As an example, a representative from the City of El Cajon Parks and Recreation Department attended one of the RLA trainings to answer questions and promote dialogue with the team.
At the conclusion of the four day training, the team was excited to share what they had learned with family and friends, to help them connect further with the City of El Cajon to improve park accessibility and use. The activity of this team in the community has also sparked an interest in starting a soccer team for female refugees. Mohammed Tuama, Founder and Director of NSD, is currently making a video on this RLA experience and has recently won numerous awards and distinctions for his work in the refugee community, including the 2017 Grossmont Hero Award.