May 12, 2006

Voice and leadership

Chula Vista’s Neighborhood Council Initiative promotes positive change in the lives of Latina immigrants

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

When you’re a Latina immigrant, working mother, and have limited English-skills, you either settle for the few resources you have or you join other women like yourself and start doing something to improve your life.

The 14 Latina mothers that make-up the Neighborhood Council Initiative, in Chula Vista, chose the second option.

And it has worked great for them –step by step promoting positive changes in their families and in their communities.

Founded in the summer of 2000, Chula Vista’s Neighborhood Council Initiative is a citywide team of residents that are working together to discover the assets and interests of their neighbors, stimulate volunteerism and strengthen community ties, respond to the concerns and unmet needs of the community, create more caring relationships among community members, and generally improve community well being.

Neighborhood Council Initiative members at the Alzheimer’s center in CV helping out. From left to right: a staff member at the Alzheimer’s Center, Rosa Vasquez, Gladys Rios, Alma Villanueva, Patty Osuna, Heather Nemour, Miriam Reyes, Betty Rodriguez, Eva Chavez and Fermina Lopez.

Even though that might sound overwhelming and something that Latina mothers with limited-English would never be able to accomplish, the reality is that they are improving western Chula Vista, an area that rarely gets the resources it needs.

Heather Nemour, founder of the Neighborhood Council Initiative and a coordinator for the Chula Vista Community Collaborative, said that one of the issues they wanted to tackle is the lack of public spaces and parks in western Chula Vista.

After years of struggle, the women of the Neighborhood Council Initiative were able to get the city to build Harborside Park on Oxford St. –the first park in the west side in 25 years, according to Nemour.

“This new park is an example of the accomplishments of these Latina mothers,” she said.

Sometimes called promotoras, Neighborhood Council Initiative members have three issues areas of focus:

• Increasing access to health resources and healthy choices among residents.

• Enhancing neighborhood environments and infrastructure.

• Strengthening community ties for all ages and all ethnic groups.

“When we started we wanted to get residents actively involved in the community,” Nemour said.

In addition to doing their own fundraising, Neighborhood Council Initiative members have done many proyects, including graffiti removal, visiting senior homes, and voter registration campaigns.

Not for nothing, the group’s mission is “to ensure and enhance resident voice and leadership with regard to issues affecting community well being.”

In recent weeks, Chula Vista Councilmember Patricia Chavez was at a Neighborhood Council Initiative meeting to give a workshop on how Chula Vista residents can approach city hall.

She said she was impressed by their work.

“It’s a fantastic group,” Chavez said. “They’re a great example of leadership that encourages the rest of the community to get involved. It tells the community that their voice does count and that the more voices there are the better outcome.”

Most of the women have limited-English skills, but they’re encouraged to practice the language at meetings.

Throughout the years, many of the Latina immigrants who have joined the Neighborhood Council Initiative have been able to advance their lives, learn English, get a new career, and obtain a better job, Nemour said.

“The work they do here helps them build their self-confidence and encourages them to improve their lives,” she said. “I’m very proud of them.”

Paty Osuna has been part of the group since it was founded. Before joining it she was a stay-at-home mom who would spend her day watching telenovelas.

Now she’s the program’s coordinator, a part-time paid position.

“It has helped my self-esteem a lot,” she said. “Volunteer work in the community is something beautiful.”

Other women should “join the Neighborhood Council Initiative to advocate for their own community. Also, to increase the quality of life in Chula Vista. They will develop leadership skills,” Nemour said.

Meetings are held on the first Monday of each month at 9 a.m. at New Directions Family Resource Center, at Rice Elementary, in Chula Vista.

If you would like to learn more about the Neighborhood Council Initiative please contact Barbara Lugo or Heather Nemour at New Directions Family Resource Center at (619) 691-5301.

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