2013 Grants Challenge

Building Bridges in the San Gabriel Valley: Social Connectedness in Action

The San Gabriel Valley currently lacks solid social connectedness; this project aims to change this dynamic. First, the area, like much of Los Angeles is experiencing demographic changes. This is definitely true in the San Gabriel Valley as newly arriving Latinos and Asian-Pacific Islanders mix with existing 2nd-5th Generation Latinos. This project seeks to alleviate some of the tensions change can bring by starting dialogues and workshops led by established professional facilitators. These dialogues seek to bring different cultures with very different experiences and expectations for life in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles together in order to connect and work together, rather than exist in clusters individually. The idea is to use methods similar to successful “black-brown” projects in Los Angeles and make them relevant to the region and its needs. The dialogues would be adapted for language needs. This segment will be aided by previous experience working with NCCJ (National Conference for Community & Justice). The first step in growing connectedness is to have different groups actually connect; this project begins those linkages. The second area of the project to expand social connectedness is to partner with LA Voice in expanding the region. Currently, LA Voice has many strong clusters in Los Angeles; but, it has a lone operation in the San Gabriel Valley (in Baldwin Park). This project sees the formation of a regional base and expansion into many more congregations. LA Voice’s expansion would greatly aid social connectedness. In individual congregations, it would create opportunities for individuals to learn how to gain influence and change their communities. Regional meetings would bring these congregations together in actions and planning sessions, which grow area connectedness. LA Voice’s network across Los Angeles provides further opportunities for connectedness at meetings and actions. This effect is further amplified with statewide conferences of the PICO Network which will allow San Gabriel Valley residents to develop ideas and learn from other Californians beyond relying on emails or news reports. The third segment is the hosting of events to grow social connectedness. For example, preparations are underway for a higher education presentation that would include universities, counselors, immigration assistance, and local successful graduates, including a commitment from a locally-raised government official currently working in Washington, D.C. With ongoing budget cuts and cultural issues, an event held independently of school has very significant promise to connect a wide pool of potential candidates to resources needed to attend higher education. Hosting “get acquainted” meetings for local businesses, politicians, and leaders is designed to provide non-confrontational opportunities for contact among what has been at time a contentious environment rather than confrontational or negotiating situations. The project also sees quarterly men’s and women’s contact group meetings to discuss issues they feel are pertinent. Citizenship events are another key component. These events help residents move from residency through the application process and examinations to full Unietd States citizenship. The citizenship steps also introduce people to “the system” and strongly encourage voting and voter awareness of issues. These events ranging from higher education awareness to more regular contact sessions and promote new linkages for the area. The fourth area is training to improve social connectedness. Training will make presentations, events, and communications more effective. The training will include making sue of technology to improve presentations. Staff development will also help the program deal with the community changes already discussed. The project also plans to send teens to leadership development training. In this area youth leadership is often not fully nourished; the goal of the training is to have youth involved and to prepare them for greater success. The fifth area to improve social connectedness is capability upgrades through technology and equipment. Currently, the Social Services program relies on “low tech” communications. This project sees program gaining a major boost in long-term capability to connect with society through laptop computers, a scanner, PowerPoint projectors, significantly upgraded telephones to allow for more efficient phone banks, and data transfer equipment. The equipment upgrades will make communications more effective. For example, a bilingual PowerPoint presentation in Asian-Pacific Islander-Hispanic dialogues will now be possible. Likewise, non-partisan voting telephone reminders will be far easier to perform with upgrades. Communication improvements will literally boost social connectedness. Social Connectedness is a complex concept; improving social connectedness is even more challenging. This project faces the challenge.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

St. John the Baptist Social Service has a long history of involvement in the community, aiding those in need. The program has been meeting the many economic, physical, and societal needs of the community and successfully adjusting to changes in the area since 194.

In the past few years, the program has also sought to increase linkages between different parts of society. Baldwin Park and surrounding cities have had some issues with having government, business, organizations, and the population working together such as with redevelopment issues.

An example is the start of the Cesar Chavez Interfaith Breakfast, which for the first time brought together community leaders, business owners, labor leaders, clergy from several denominations, public sector employees, and politicians together in a non-formal gathering. The event allows people to meet others while also hearing different perspectives, such as a rabbi who worked with Cesar Chavez to a local graduate who has become principal of one of the city’s high schools. Attendees leave with new contacts and possibilities.

There has been great success in having community voices heard with more influence at city hall. After a fatal traffic accident, the program teamed with LA Voice and other congregations to seek a solution to an ongoing danger. This combined campaign led to a rapid decision by the city to install a new traffic light, which is now in service. The campaign prompted local officials to act far faster than normal.

An ongoing success has been getting community members much more involved in local issues. An example is the city’s study of whether to retain the local police department or contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Now, community members are attending hearings, giving their opinions and staying informed of events in the debate. In previous years this process would largely have been ignored by the public and not been influenced by their views. The local officials now know their decisions are being monitored. Creating public accountability is a major gain for this area.

A significant achievement has been making connections to more effectively serve those in need, something that before was more provincial. The Social Services program has adjusted the annual Thanksgiving food drive to partner with the school district and their family liaison officers to identify people in need. This has led to a much better evaluation of the needs of the community and reduced fraud. Now, verified families in need have Thanksgiving food boxes delivered to their homes. This partnership is helping both parties ensure aid is effective to maximize results.

The Social Services program has been developing greater and deeper linkages in the community to provide better delivery of resources. This project will take this process even further to yield wonderful dividends. The foundation of social connectedness has been established; now, the program looks to grow the structure.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

The project seeks to use diverse partnerships to improve its reach and effectiveness.

1) LA Voice, established in 2000, aids congregations throughout Los Angeles in forming leaders to improve their communities. It is also a member of the national PICO network.

2) Baldwin Park Unified School District already works with the program in areas such as identifying families in crisis and advancing education for youth and teens. This project would use school liaisons to make the planned activities as well-known as possible.

3) The project will involve other congregations in the area. Already, there are joint projects with Baldwin Park United Methodist Church and CLUE members. This project will enhance those connections.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

This project is not solely a project where simple headcounts or signatures on a page are the signs of success; this project will be accountable beyond statistics.

Some successes will be easy to measure. Were the proposed additional equipment purchased? A “Yes” means the project has successfully increased capacity significantly for communication. Here a “headcount” for PowerPoint projectors is obviously an easy task. Likewise, telephone upgrades are easily quantifiable to see that capacity has increased for phone banks and similar events. Laptops again are quantifiable and quickly add mobility and capacity to communication. A scanner is quantifiable and will boost connectedness by adding electronic capabilities to presentations and communications.

In less quantifiable area, the results will still exist and be more oriented towards “people power” and “soft power.” The effects though will be profound.

+ Success for Asian-Pacific Islander-Hispanic dialogue will be measured in creating a sustainable series in the region. Establishing the foundation for this dialogue will be the first success, especially as it will be novel in the area.

+ Second, holding the events and workshops will be quantifiable. The results are less numeric and more long-term; but, attendance should create grounds for success and improve the region as demographics change.

+Third, seeing results for the expansion of the LA Voice presence will be ongoing. The project sees LA Voice growing from one congregation in the San Gabriel Valley to a substantial presence across the region and in a range of faiths. Success sees local organizing committees being established and active, connecting people in new ways and increasing their ability to promote change in their communities.

+ Fourth, the events part of the project again will yield less quantifiable results. These planned events will result in greater connectedness among disparate parts of society: youth, adults, non-profits, business, government and congregations. Success in this segment will see less animosity, greater trust, and greater awareness of opportunities for individual growth as well as partnerships. Currently, there is a significant amount of animosity among many of the groups that is affecting areas such as employment and education.

Training will be a success with staff and others gaining capabilities and expanding knowledge bases. Learning of new “best practices” can boost even the most best operation. In addition, training can help in evaluating existing projects and looking at future projects for improvement and/or implementation.

In all these segments, there will also be evaluation by users. The project sees constant feedback from those involved. For example, attendees at dialogue workshops will be asked for their opinions of the event and for suggestions. Success will be taking the existing regional “human capital” and growing and improving it to make a huge asset for the future.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

This project boosts social connectedness in the San Gabriel Valley, an area of Los Angeles County trailing in linkages. Away from many economic and government power centers, the region has been semi-isolated among its own cities and regionally. Like in a body, an atrophied region is a problem for an area; this project looks to add muscle and flexibility to an underdeveloped part of the Greater Los Angeles body.

The project rapidly boosts communications capabilities for the existing Social Services program. The upgrades will greatly aid in communicating to diverse audiences and increases effectiveness through technology. Adding PowerPoint capabilities and laptops for mobility will boost the effectiveness of project contacts.

It aims to help smooth the regional transition as more Asian-Pacific Islanders arrive along with newly arrived Latinos amid existing native and immigrant Latino populations. A faith-based organization that has begun building cross-cultural bridges can be very successful in building the connections and trust needed for dialogue and growth. With the rapidly growing Asian-Pacific population throughout Los Angeles, this component can be a model for other areas as demographics change.

The project’s expansion of the LA Voice operation in the San Gabriel Valley creates many new opportunities for connectedness and growth. Rather than being the current outlier in the LA Voice/PICO network, the San Gabriel Valley organization will function as a hub, linked together, regionally, and statewide and nationally through the PICO networks. The strengthening of local links also benefits Greater Los Angeles by yielding a more involved and aware region.

The events in the project will promote connectedness among residents, businesses, and local governments. The area has a history of disconnectedness and at times, distrust, among the different sectors. These events are designed to provide new opportunities for residents and also rebuild communication links between government, the private sector, and citizens through contact. The Los Angeles area gains when different parts of the community are in closer contact and cooperation.

Training will allow for ongoing returns in the future. Staff development will allow for more creativity and awareness in addressing needs. Training also creates opportunities for residents, in particular youth, to learn and ideally develop into solid community leaders. The formation of national connections will also benefit the region and Los Angeles with new ideas and opportunities for additional resources.

Social connectedness is a complex process. This project sees the challenges and uses a variety of activities to create opportunities for growth in a region that has lacked cohesiveness for years. The benefits for the region will also benefit Greater Los Angeles as the area becomes more integrated and serves as a model for other underserved areas. Improving the region betters all of Los Angeles.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

The San Gabriel Valley is a much more socially connected area in 2050 than the 2010s. The region maintains its distinctiveness while now also being much more linked to the rest of Greater Los Angeles. This social connectedness has made for a more involved and aware populace, more efficient and transparent government, and for greater economic opportunity.

Thanks to an Asian-Pacific Islander-Hispanic dialogue program that began in 2013, transitioning communities have been pleased with increased cooperation and reductions in tensions among residents. The workshops and dialogue series has been copied throughout Los Angeles and California. Facilitators have trained new facilitators for locations throughout the valley to ensure discussions are ongoing and available as widely as possible.

L.A. Voice is now well-established in the San Gabriel Valley, reaching the San Bernardino County and Orange County lines. The presence of an interfaith umbrella organization with national and state links to PICO has boosted the influence of area congregations. Its area activity which had been solely in Baldwin Park is now a force all along the I-10 corridor. Previously neglected areas now have their voices heard in downtown Los Angeles and Sacramento, and within their own city government buildings. The local congregations have strongly bonded and now can address local and valley-wide issues effectively. It is a substantial change from when the San Gabriel Valley was more of an isolated outpost for citizenry and interfaith congregational involvement.

The original social connectedness project helped create a great tradition of participatory events for the community. The events are now eagerly anticipated annual highlights and held at multiple locations throughout the area. The higher education events create many opportunities for students to learn about college as well as gain financial aid, scholarships, and career planning. The community contact sessions have greatly improved relationships between local government, businesses, congregations, and non-profits. Held at neutral sites, the sessions have opened many new lines of communications and greatly reduced distrust among the parties. The small group quarterly meetings have been replicated across the region giving participants a chance to meet others in a less formal environment. Citizenship fairs are also helping people move from legal residency to being United States citizens.

Training and staff development remains an important objective in 2050. Greater public involvement in government and greater emphasis on intellectual property for employers meant additional learning becoming very valuable. The sharing of ideas has helped make involved people more efficient and effective. “Lifetime learning” is now more than a slogan or vague concept; it is reality.

Los Angeles is improved in 2050. While there will always be room for improvement, the changes started 37 years ago yielded a better society.