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Mothers Score Victory for First Park in a Santa Ana Neighborhood

February 25, 2013
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My children now say ‘my park’ and they see something I’m doing as a mother. Someday, they will say ‘My mom did this.’

Soledad Vences

A mother and advocate

Families with Green Hearts

Santa Ana mother Irma Rivera witnessed two separate accidents whereby a child was hit by a car. Both children were playing in the street.

A park didn’t exist in their dense neighborhood of Santa Ana. Kids would play in parking lots, inside their apartments or in the middle of the street.

Rivera and other mothers were horrified by the accidents. They wanted a safe, open space where their kids wouldn’t have to risk their lives. The mothers took action, forming a group, called Families with Green Hearts.

They didn’t have any civic engagement skills at the start. They learned to successfully advocate to city officials for the very first recreational park in their 92701 zip code.

The $3.6 million park will include a jungle gym, children’s playground, half basketball court, walking path and a 3,000-square-foot community center with a kitchen.

Building advocacy tools

The mothers got help from the nonprofit health advocacy group, Latino Health Access (LHA). They attended legal and leadership workshops. They learned how to overcome their fear of public speaking and develop an understanding of their legal rights.

“As an organization, our goals are to see the changes in the individuals and in the community,” said Rosalía Piñon, LHA community liaison coordinator. “Something like this is what inspires the community.”

Rivera credits the tenacity of the members who found places to meet and brainstormed ideas to raise funds. They organized health fairs and approached singers to perform concerts. With the assistance of LHA, they also received donations.

The group gained confidence in approaching city leaders. Although some of officials preferred to fund buildings instead of parks, they responded appropriately.

“At the beginning we were afraid to talk, but after the leadership seminars and the practice, we were ready to ask for what we needed,” said Soledad Vences, one of the mothers.

The group also learned how to write a proposal, thanks to the help of a pro-bono lawyer. They sent the proposal to Sacramento and invited state offcials to see where they wanted to build their dream park and why.

Although the group realized they faced fierce competition, they successfully received a grant of $3.5 million from the California State Parks.

The construction of the park began with neighborhood residents assisting in the design. Now, some of them even sit on the Community Advisory Board, serving as advocates for open space.

Continuation of advocacy work

Although it has taken 10 years, the community anticipates the grand opening of the park in early 2013.

Rivera emphasized that the elements of e$ective advocacy are to create awareness about parents’ rights and responsibilities, and then establish a relationship between residents and politicians to achieve a common good.

Maria Andrade, one of the pioneers of Families with Green Hearts, took the advocacy tools she acquired and joined the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development. This coalition, which works closely
with LHA, had been advocating for the passage of the Sunshine Ordinance, making the city government more open and accessible to the community.

It was another victory. In October, city officials passed the new ordinance.

The mothers learned that not only does team effort help them achieve their goals, but also how their voices are important.

“My children now say ‘my park’ and they see something I’m doing as a mother,” Vences said. “Someday, they will say ‘My mom did this.’” ™

By Rossy Eguigure