Community engagement is a top priority in Rancho Cucamonga
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., knows that, in order to build a healthy community, the focus needs to be, first and foremost, on the individuals who comprise it.
Rancho Cucamonga was named a 2020 All-America City. That year’s theme focused on health and wellness, which the city has achieved over the years through the Healthy RC program and through close work with community organizations like Campeones Para La Comunidad, translated Champions for the Community.
Nationwide, Healthy Communities programs have addressed health needs through things like exercise and nutrition. Healthy RC, which began in 2008, does this and more, also taking into account mental and emotional well-being.
While Healthy RC is housed within the city manager’s office, it does not necessarily “belong” to one department alone, but encompasses all areas of the city.
“Rancho is Healthy RC,” Joanna Marrufo, who oversees Healthy RC’s mental health subcommittee, said. “It’s embedded in the DNA of the city council’s goals and even our general plan … it’s in the DNA of all of our projects and programs and policies. We’re city employees, so just the structure of it is very grassroots, so that’s what makes us unique as a city, and it’s very progressive.”
In other words, Healthy RC is visible and active in every aspect of Rancho Cucamonga, from the Etiwanda Heights neighborhood development to Los Amigos Park, to the city’s overall priorities.
“Healthy RC came out of a council priority to create an environment where health is an accessible opportunity for all,” Marrufo said.
Community Programs Coordinator Clarence de Guzman described Healthy RC as collaboration of community stakeholders from schools, faith-based organizations, nonprofit groups and businesses.
“Really, we invite everyone to be a part of it,” he said. “Even if you’re not affiliated with these community-based organizations, you’re welcome and we encourage you to be a part of it.”
Healthy RC has identified eight focus areas, including healthy eating and active living, community connections and safety, mental health, economic development, clean environment, healthy aging and disaster resiliency.
“We really tried to address the whole gamut, not just your traditional sense of healthy eating and active living,” de Guzman said. “We were really looking at the holistic view.”
Marrufo oversees Healthy RC’s mental health subcommittee, which offers tools and resources and raises awareness. An example is the “Your Mind Matters” campaign, a bilingual program that encourages conversation on a number of mental health topics, like resilience, coping skills, stress and anxiety and suicide prevention, which are often otherwise avoided.
“These are all stigmatized issues in all cultures and all generations,” Marrufo said.
The campaign also ensures residents are connected to mental health resources, information and training through support groups, self-care workshops and symposiums.
Marrufo recalled feedback one resident gave on a speaker who shared resiliency skills.
“She wrote, ‘Being able to practice the coping skills was so impactful because, as a mother, I don’t have time to do this on my own, but now I have the skills I need to know what to do,’” Marrufo said.
Healthy RC has also hosted grief and loss groups.
“One person said they feel they’re not alone in their struggle, hearing people’s perspectives helps them realize that there are other folks going through grief and it brings them peace,” Marrufo said.
Healthy eating, living
Access to fresh, locally grown produce is another concern for Healthy RC.
Several neighborhoods were identified as “food deserts,” meaning there were no grocery stores within walking distance of where residents lived.
“So we collaborated with planning to change the zoning of the city so we could reduce the barriers for farmer’s markets to come into the city and increase community garden zoning,” Marrufo said.
One of the top priorities for these programs was affordability for low-income families, allowing them to purchase healthy, fresh foods. The city found grants to help subsidize the cost of these local products. A dollar-for-dollar match allows program participants a 50% discount on produce.
Through private and federal grants, the program is able to feed thousands of families each month through the farmer’s market.
Another Healthy RC project is Los Amigos Park. Workshops gave parents a say in the park’s layout, featured amenities and even its name. Local children helped design the park’s logo.
Campeones Para la Comunidad
According to Marrufo and De Guzman, many of the above programs would not have been possible without Campeones Para la Communidad, translated as “Community Champions” in English.
The Champions’ purpose is to ensure historically marginalized groups have access to local government and are included. Rather than inviting these residents to city hall, the Champions went to the community, meeting in neighborhood community centers, engaging people in conversation to gather data and find out what issues they are facing while also building trust and involving them in leadership.
Examples of programs include a photo voice project, featuring images of sidewalks and other areas needing improvement. Safe Routes to School was another need, and the city received a grant connecting the engineering, planning and community services departments to implement safe routes for students walking or biking to school. The local police and fire and several other departments took part in a Walk to School Day promotional event.
“Without the Champions, we would not have that insight and understanding of the community needs,” Marrufo said.
Two city projects that caught the eye of the All-America City committee included the Etiwanda Heights neighborhood and Los Amigos Park.
Etiwanda Heights began as an abandoned gravel mine. Several years ago, the city saw the area’s potential for development, including the realization of walkable neighborhoods and conservation areas. Through the Champions’ efforts, the original plan was reworked, with input from city residents who, otherwise, would have been excluded.
“The Champions said, ‘We really value open space, greenery; we really want our kids to have opportunities for sports and exercise and mental health,’” De Guzman said.
Another example of this is Los Amigos Park. From the beginning, the Champions were at the planning meetings, bringing feedback from the community.
“They really wanted the community to design the park and help with creating the priorities,” Marrufo said. “The city partnered with the neighborhood communities, with Los Amigos School which is a three-minute walk from the park. They did a lot of outreach there, engaged them through workshops, even developing the name and designing what elements they wanted to have.”
Local students created artwork, which the city printed on tiles that are now part of the park’s “Friendship Wall.”
The park’s grand opening went beyond the traditional ribbon cutting, featuring food, entertainment, games and information on community resources.
“At a city council meeting, our Champions spoke on behalf of the park, confirming how the park has changed their lives,” Marrufo said. “One of the Champions lives next to the park and said, ‘For the first time in 10 years, I don’t have to drive anywhere to go to the park,’ and her whole lifestyle changed.”
For more complete information, visit www.cityofrc.us/healthy-rc.
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