Community/Site: North Adelanto
Grant Cycle/Phase: Community Action Phase
Lead Organization: El Sol
Coach: Stephanie Vida Pazarin
Community Problem/Issue: Water justice/infrastructure
This story is about engagement. For CBI engagement is not people participating in services or programs, but rather people engaging with each other. Relationships are at the core of healthy neighborhoods and essential to successful power building. This case study illustrates how a community severely impacted by the COVID pandemic was able to turn much needed direct services into opportunities to strengthen the fabric of their community — the relationships that bond neighbor to neighbor.
Actively engaging residents to advocate for changes in issues that impact their health and wellbeing is challenging. It was especially difficult during early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was unleashed in our country and impacted all our lives in ways few were prepared for.
North Adelanto residents were scared. They were losing their jobs. They had limited access to large grocery stores, hospitals, and at times even clean drinking water. It was at this time that the North Adelanto Community Building Initiative (CBI) kicked off. Stepping into that space and asking people to connect the dots that intersect all of these issues to the systemic and unjust policies within their region seemed unachievable. The uncertainty that people faced made it nearly impossible for them to focus on any issue or solution that was too far into the future and would not provide immediate relief.
Those experiencing the greatest impacts of the COVID pandemic were also those who had the most to gain from learning about the systems and practices that perpetuate disparities and how to work together to make real change. The CBI team knew that before they could begin to interest people in collective action to address disparities, they had to build trust — but none of the traditional relational work that typically characterizes the first months of CBI was possible under COVID restrictions. The team could not use one-on-one conversations over coffee, door knocking, small group conversations, town hall type meetings, or community forums.
CBI Leads stepped into this space and met people exactly where they were at. They flipped the script and moved away from traditional community organizing practices and began to build trust by providing much needed support, personal connection, and reliable health and safety information to the residents of North Adelanto. They started by assisting at mobile food drives, putting together food bags, and making food deliveries. They then began conducting wellness checks on isolated neighbors via phone calls or drive by greetings. Once trusted, they helped people connect to available resources including mental health/wellness, housing/rent supports, food, and COVID vaccination and testing.
Soon grateful residents were expressing interest in becoming a part of CBI support efforts. The CBI team quickly shifted to work hand-in-hand with residents to plan and launch neighborhood hosted food distribution pop up sites, COVID-19 vaccine testing sites, and eventually vaccine clinics.
Having the flexibility to meet the residents where they were at was critical. Rather than simply meeting their needs, CBI engage neighbors in actively meeting their own needs as a community. This cultivated bonds, built trust, and helped the residents of North Adelanto start asking critical questions needed to understand the systems that have led to a community that is disenfranchised and under-resourced. Their point of view was solidly in the upstream frame, and they were ready and eager to engage in CBI’s next steps.
These efforts proved to be critical in building trust and cohesion among neighbors. By Including people in actively supporting their own neighbors, CBI was able to build and strengthen neighbor-to-neighbor relationships, and begin creating a deeper understanding of individual and collective power during a time when most people felt extremely vulnerable.
The genuine concern and support that the CBI team showed neighbors during the COVID crisis nurtured an interest in continuing their collective work. The neighbors had strengthened bonds and became painfully aware of the severe disparities and adversity their community experienced as compared with some of the neighboring communities. They had a taste of what collective action could achieve and an example of the power they could apply to address any problem. These individuals were the first members of the North Adelanto Core Team and would eventually organize to address inequitable access to critical resources — with a specific focus on availability and access to clean safe water.