Resident Leadership Academies Timeline


Community involvement is at the heart of collective impact. When local residents become active in their community, they have the opportunity to connect with one another and work together towards a shared goal that brings about meaningful change. San Diegans are giving back to their communities by volunteering their time and talents to projects that are leaving lasting impacts and helping to shape an environment that is healthy, safe and thriving.  

Resident Leadership Academies (RLAs) provide an opportunity and space for communities to actively pursue projects at a grassroots level that will have a direct impact on their neighborhoods. Residents are trained through a multi-week curriculum about issues that commonly effect the health and well-being within local neighborhoods and are taught the skills needed to address issues in their own community. Together, residents work alongside their neighbors to help improve the quality of life where they live by initiating and leading community improvement projects. 

RLAs began in 2011 as a pilot project in the communities of Lemon Grove, National City, Southeastern San Diego and Oceanside and have grown into a successful county-wide multilingual and multigenerational program that has been replicated in communities across the region. Since its inception and expansion over the past decade, RLAs have become a proven strategy for community capacity building.  With over 900 graduates countywide and over 160 facilitators trained, RLA’s make a significant impact in their neighborhoods by creating and implementing community-identified improvement projects.

RLAs have been taken to new heights through the dedication and collaboration of residents, community-based organizations and local governments and are continually improving and responding to community input and needs. RLAs empower residents to take ownership and create the change they believe would be beneficial while building community and leadership capacity. With each RLA and resulting Community Improvement Projects our region continues to build neighborhoods that are safe, healthy and thriving. 


  • Arboreta Group
  • Bayside Community Center
  • CASA
  • Casa Familiar
  • City Heights Community Development Corporation
  • Circulate San Diego
  • City of Oceanside
  • Community Health Improvement Partners
  • Community Housing Works
  • County of San Diego
  • Escondido Education COMPACT
  • Harmonium, Inc.
  • Helix High School
  • Home Start
  • Housing Opportunities Collaborative
  • Interfaith Community Services
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Jewish Family Services
  • Julian Pathways, Inc
  • Lemon Grove HEAL Zone
  • Mundo Gardens
  • North County Lifeline
  • Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center 
  • Project New Village
  • Rady Children's Hospital
  • Somali Family Service of San Diego
  • South Bay Community Services
  • Urban Collaborative Project
  • UrbanLife Ministries, Inc.
  • Vista Community Clinic


Partner Success Stories

Residents Come Together to
Improve Access to Sports Fields

In 2017, one Resident Leadership Academy helped to give a voice and collaboration space to new neighbors; this RLA in El Cajon was led by community-based organization Newcomers Support and Development to engage youth and teen Middle Eastern refugees and immigrant newcomers. This RLA connected participants with public servants at the City of El Cajon to bring more access to playing fields for the Community Iraqi Soccer Team. Through this effort, youth and teens in the area were able to go from informally practicing at local parks to having a dedicated space to play. They are now expanding these efforts and hope to secure additional permits and lighting for after-hours competitive soccer to further promote healthy activity in public spaces.  When given the resources and connections, residents can become leaders in their communities and advocate not only for themselves but also for their neighbors.


The Power of Youth Leadership in
Creating Positive Community Change

Author: Maya Jimenez, Creative Arts Youth RLA Member 

At the beginning of 2020, a diverse group of young community members gathered in the Center for Community Cohesion in Southeast San Diego. Forming their chairs in an intimate circle, the young leaders were introduced to an exciting and promising program - the Creative Arts Youth Resident Leadership Academy - a collaboration led by Kathryn Shade of the National Conflict Resolution Center, Barry Pollard of the Urban Collaborative Project, and community resident Andrea Nasser.

RLA participants explored the interconnectivity of topics like neighborhood design and social determinants of health, while strengthening their advocacy and leadership skills. Sessions featured the expertise and lived experience from guest speakers across various sectors from urban gardening and land use to engaging activities like a walk audit of Euclid Ave and a tour of a “complete street”. Sessions regularly featured interactive activities led by world renown muralist Maxx Moses who helped participants find the intersection between various forms of art and using creative means to drive change. 

Due to COVD-19, the second half of the RLA, the community improvement project, was put on a temporary hold but it did not slow the momentum; the RLA’s participants continued planning through regular Zoom calls.

“My initial worries of the project falling apart vanished once I saw the nine faces of the RLA team. Being able to meet with them on our weekly zoom sessions motivated me to continue working on this project, and I have no doubt that we will see our visions come to life,” says Shiella, a current high school senior and youth member.

The group began to tackle their Community Improvement Project of transforming the basketball courts in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Encanto into a multi-use community gathering place that included community relevant art.

“In all of the RLAs I have been associated with, this group has been the most resilient, persistent, and dedicated in sticking with the entire process even throughout the pandemic - from in person meetings, to zoom meetings to implementing the CIP,” shared Barry Pollard. 

After months of learning and planning the project virtually, the group was propelled into action in September 2020 and started working on the gathering place by painting a base coat for a basketball court mural. Future transformations of the space include a stage for performances and movie nights, art panels, and a garden.

Shaina, a rising 8th grader and youth member says that being in the program has changed her from its beginning in January. “It has taught me about being a leader and [about] things going on in the world. It’s shaped me into [becoming] a more selfless person.” 



Resident Leaders Come Together to
Address Pedestrian Safety

Bayside Community Center has been working with the Linda Vista community to plan, design, advocate, and implement community improvement projects to increase pedestrian safety. With residents taking the lead, the local community, schools, artists and the Intersection Mural Network came together to make a series of intersection murals a reality. Intersection murals are unique traffic calming mechanisms that serve to beautify a community, build community empowerment, and create safer environments for pedestrians.

One mural, located outside Montgomery Middle School, was designed and painted by residents and local artists through various community engagement processes.

“We want to empower our diverse community to assume more leadership roles in the neighborhood,” said Kim Heinle, Bayside Community Advocate. “We want to help residents move from civic participants to civic leaders.”

Tomasa Ruiz participated in Bayside Community Center’s Resident Leadership Academy. When asked what drew her to Bayside’s RLA Tomasa shared that is was, “to help her children live a healthier life.”

Since graduating from Bayside’s RLA in 2013, Tomasa has participated in and led a variety of important community improvement projects in Linda Vista including, improving lighting in Kelly Street park, installing traffic calming mechanisms around neighborhood schools, facilitating a Women’s Savings group and advocating for new legislation that promotes Urban Agriculture statewide.

“I know that if we can work together we can make improvements,” said Ruiz. “It’s been many years and I love it!”

Check out the pictures of Bayside’s latest traffic calming project in front of Linda Vista Elementary STEAM Magnet school, here .