Civic engagement is the process of addressing community concerns by empowering residents to learn about issues and take action to address those issues. Engagement can take many forms, from individual volunteerism to organizational involvement to the simple act of voting in an election. Partners are working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and are helping to develop leaders by encouraging the development of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to help individuals make that difference.





Leadership Development


Many partners are using community engagement to develop resident leaders within communities who can make change happen. 

The Resident Leadership Academy (RLA) program facilitated by Community Health Improvement Partners offered RLA COVID-19 Relief Project Stipends to help RLA leader groups and host organizations respond directly to the pandemic, reduce barriers to participation in community engagement work, and support the connection between community organizations and resident leader groups as trusted messengers to their communities. Awardees included Bayside Community Center, SBCS, and Vista Community ClinicCommunity Health Improvement Partners also facilitated RLA Supplemental Trainings for over 465 people on immigration law, understanding homelessness, historical trauma and building resilience, and restorative practices, amongst others to help inform and build community knowledge and leadership. 

“It starts with a challenge and ends with community dialogue to come up with a good result. Success isn’t a result of only one person’s doing – as the saying goes, it takes a village. The key to success lies in engaging everyone in our community. And even when we don’t all agree on the same way to go about doing something, a dialogue is a critical component to seeing it happen. When we work together, we succeed together.”

RISE San Diego

RISE San Diego has created the RISE Urban Leadership Fellows Program to identify and nurture rising leaders ready to engage in meaningful community change work. In 2020, twenty-six RISE Fellows graduated from the program representing some of San Diego’s best and brightest community leaders, activists, practitioners, and agents of social change.




Electoral Process and U.S. Census


Voter Outreach

Through voter outreach, civic engagement, experimentation, advocacy, and communications, Engage San Diego , whose partners include Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest and The San Diego LGBT Community Center, aims to expand political opportunity by increasing electoral and civic participation of underrepresented communities in San Diego County, with a focus on low-income families, youth, women, and LGBT, African-American, Latinx, AAPI, immigrant, and refugee communities. To help make mail voting easier, YMCA of San Diego County branches teamed up with the Registrar of Voters to become a designated ballot drop-off site



Meanwhile, the University of San Diego hosted a "Get Registered, Get Informed" event on campus, where students who dropped in could receive guidance from their peers to get registered, learn about the California ballot propositions and 2020 presidential candidates and watch the New Hampshire primary results. San Diego State University Associated Students Rock the Vote initiative to increase voter and civic engagement ensured that students had the opportunity, education and resources to vote safely and securely, providing easy access to voting with a super poll site at Viejas Arena. The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Associated Student Government and the Political Science Club worked closely with faculty and staff to develop campus events focusing on voter registration and civic engagement, including a voter registration session, a Constitution Day program, student podcasts, educational workshops, and a Town Hall event. 



In the run-up to the 2020 United States presidential election, the International Rescue Committee asked refugees and immigrants that they serve why voting is important to them. Ranging from brand-new to long-time voters, they explain why all-American citizens need to vote to ensure their voices are heard.

“We waited for maybe our entire lives to do this. It took us six years to be a citizen and we’re finally going to vote for the first time in our lives as an American Citizen.”

Taghreed, Iraqi refugee, U.S. Citizen

“Voting is empowerment for me because as a young girl when I was in Afghanistan, under the Taliban regime, my human rights were taken away from me. Now I can stand up for those that do not have that power.”

Meheria, Afghan refugee, U.S. Citizen



2020 U.S. Census

The U.S. Census Bureau convened the 2020 Census Complete Count Stakeholder Working Group who oversaw the development and execution of outreach efforts in the San Diego region for the 2020 Census. The census results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts based on where populations have increased or decreased and helps determine how federal funding is distributed and spent. 




Youth and Young Adult Leaders


Youth bring a spirit of innovation and fresh perspectives that are crucial for improving services and better connecting organizational efforts to the communities they serve.

In 2020, the Live Well San Diego Youth Sector was created to amplify the voices of diverse youth and young adults, creating youth-led opportunities for young people to actively participate in their local government and be at the forefront of addressing issues affecting youth across the region. They assisted with COVID-19 vaccine youth outreach, launched a pilot to ensure equitable access to menstrual products, and are leading the Live Well San Diego Tik Tok and Instagram channels.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce supports LEAD San Diego’s San Diego Young Leaders which provides opportunities for personal and professional development, leadership, community service, and networking for young professionals ages 21 – 40 who are emerging leaders in their field.

Through its nationally recognized Hermanitas Youth Leadership Mentor Program, MANA de San Diego challenges Latina middle and high school students to reach beyond a high school diploma; to graduate from a higher education institution; enter the professional work force as Latina leaders empowered to affect positive change. One hundred percent of participants graduate high school on time with 100% admission to college. 

"Outdoor Outreach is changing the way young people connect to the outdoors through a hyper-inclusive, empathy-driven and youth-centered approach. Their community of young leaders inspire youth to challenge the unspoken narrative that outdoor spaces are not for “people like me” and to find their own personal meaning through exploration."​#OutdoorsForAll

Hannah Abuzaineh, Senior Manager, Social Impact, The Explore Fund at The North Face.

The YMCA of San Diego County Youth & Government program is designed to not only instill leadership qualities, but also to let members role-play leadership positions within the California State Legislature and State court systems. Youth volunteered with Alzheimer’s San Diego and created the ALZ Youth Companions and an Alzheimer’s Awareness Club to advocate for dementia and Alzheimer’s diseases and virtually connect with companions online and through social media platforms. Union of Pan Asian Communities‘s Neighborhood Enterprise Center provided probation and refugee youth with an opportunity for employment and to give back to their community through food distribution.




Virtual Events


Throughout the past year, partners kept residents engaged through virtual events, discussions, and workshops.

Casa Familiar engaged digitally with 45,133 people through The Front: A Collaborative of Art and Design, reminding us that art can assure us of our interconnectedness. They also engaged 5,790 participants in virtual workshops with topics ranging from political education, health, financial literacy, emotional health, civic engagement, and environmental justice. National Conflict Resolution Center held virtual open conversations regarding the polarization of politics and how to overcome political divides. Junior Achievement of San Diego County held virtual lunch and learns and JA For Everyone to help with lifestyle, education, career, and finance advice. San Diego County Credit Union hosted weekly training webinars to help teach kids and adults about various topics including financial literacy, car buying, mortgage loans and more. SunCoast Market Co-Op partnered with the Berry Good Food Foundation to provide recipe kits filled with fresh ingredients and host a Cook-A-Long with SunCoast Market with Imperial Beach kids. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum kept the littlest ones engaged through Fun Activities for Kids video sessions.

Biocom Institute held a virtual San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering with free access to STEAM-related topics, including COVID-19. Videos of activities and events are available all year long.






Partners continued to engage volunteers in supporting operations. UrbanSurf4Kids is a non-profit that empowers foster and at-risk youth with Surf Therapy Camps and other mentorship programs through the valued work of a pool of almost 13,000 community volunteers. Just in Time For Foster Youth volunteers hosted a COVID-friendly Thanksgiving drive-thru event for foster youth, serving 200 young adults in a catered drive-thru event. Tech for Seniors is an innovative program started by a coalition of community organizations in South Bay, including St. Paul’s Senior Services, that pairs younger, tech savvy volunteers with older adults living in affordable senior housing, often without computers or access to Internet. Through the help of volunteers, Del Mar Community Connections vaccinated 80 seniors against the Flu, helped 45 seniors schedule and get their COVID-19 vaccine, served 120 households with grocery items and helped 700 participants attend virtual programming, even supplying free laptops to seniors. The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank fed vulnerable families and seniors during the COVID-19 crisis thanks to the over 24,000 people who volunteer at the Food Bank’s warehouse every year. 

I Love A Clean San Diego’s virtually-hosted and close to home community cleanups mobilized over 6,880 volunteers and cleared nearly 50,000 pounds of litter and pollution from our creeks, canyons, parks and beaches.




Looking Ahead


Even in the midst of the pandemic, there were many opportunities for San Diego County residents to become involved, including the U.S. Census count, a Presidential election, and a plethora of virtual events to get people connected and talking. Partners are working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and are helping to develop leaders by encouraging the development of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to help individuals make that difference. Moving forward, an emphasis should be placed on further understanding, engaging, and activating residents from all ages, backgrounds, and interests to collaborate on finding solutions to the most pressing issues in our communities.