The Resident Leadership Academy (RLA), a project of the County of San Diego, was recently implemented by Vista Community Clinic and Arboreta Group in Vista, California. It is a curriculum-based, multi-session training program aimed at empowering residents to promote positive improvements in their communities. The RLA educates residents on the social determinants of health, community health strategies that support individual health and lifestyle choices, and practical ways to improve community health.
Vista Community Clinic, a recognized Live Well San Diego partner and County of San Diego Healthy Cities Healthy Residents grant awardee, held their most recent RLA graduation on June 15, 2017. A group of seven local intergenerational residents joined the ranks of the over 300 San Diego County residents that have graduated before them. The graduates will be joining Vista Community Clinic’s larger resident group, Poder Popular, who are also graduates of the RLA, as they begin their journey to select and implement their community improvement project plans. The recent graduates dedicated over seven Saturdays, up to five hours at a time, to the RLA.
Among the graduates was Lidia Mateos de Martinez. Martinez was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico and came to the United States at the age of 45 after receiving a visa. Martinez’ children were already living in the United States and attending different colleges throughout the country. Martinez immediately began working to help support her family and took immense pride in her work. That same pride was shown when she graduated from the RLA. Martinez was the oldest graduate of the program and honored to be the oldest participant in her cohort. She said, “When my church group informed me of the RLA program, I was intrigued at what it had to offer and I felt that the topics they were going to discuss were very important to me.”
Martinez spoke about her experience:
“Our community should look at the vacant dirt plots within our neighborhoods and create green spaces such as recreation parks, basketball courts or more grocery stores. We as residents should educate ourselves about the economy, health and active transportation. For example, creating a community garden is important because it unites us and everyone can be involved. Children also need their own spaces to play and we need to collaborate with the city to develop these empty plots. These projects are important for us and we need to be a united front.”
Martinez also described the need for programs such as the RLA to address some of the major health concerns in her neighborhood.
“Our society has changed. We do not support eating healthy foods and we do not walk or exercise enough. In the community, we see the lack of grocery stores and sidewalks and unsafe sidewalks. We learned that there is too much violence in our neighborhoods. We also learned that big organizations contribute to contamination and they sell alcohol and cigarettes to underage children. There is no control over this in our society and in our communities. This needs to change.”
Martinez also described why she supports the RLA.
“[The County of] San Diego is creating healthy, safe, and prosperous communities because the vision is to live well. I liked that very much. The vision is to first live well and to live without dangers. It is very important to live without fear, to develop better health, and to prosper in every area to live well.”
The RLA program aims to educate residents about the individual, environmental and social causes of some chronic diseases. These tools empower the residents to bring changes needed to enhance their communities and create vibrant neighborhoods. At the end of the program, the graduates are asked to apply the RLA teachings by identifying and implementing a community improvement project.
Since she was a young girl, Martinez was always interested in writing and drawing. She used her skills to summarize her newly gained knowledge into a work book, complete with free-hand drawings depicting the topics described. One drawing is of an unsafe intersection in her neighborhood. The drawing depicts some of the modern urban dangers from the perspective of a protective grandmother.
“One day my grandson and I were walking and I saw something that did not look right. I told him to take a picture of the intersection that did not have a traffic light. In that instant, a car was going to turn right and another car coming from the opposite direction was turning left at the same time. The cross traffic was coming as well. I thought that is what I’m going to present. That is what I’m going to draw. I drew it and I presented it along with other [health issues] such as junk food vs. good food. Thank God my peers and instructors all liked my drawings and that I made a great impact on them.”
She stated that there are a lot of needs in the community, and she would like to start working on a community garden and to also work with her neighbors to help stop the sale of alcohol to minors. With her graduation, Martinez took home more than a certificate: she took home an action plan.
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