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All-America City Award Finalists Stewardship in Action: Rancho Cucamonga, California
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash
Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the prestigious All-America City Award. The 2020 All-America City Award Finalist communities focus specifically on enhancing health and well-being through civic engagement.
Stewardship is a core concept for The Commons community and our collaborators working to advance equitable wellbeing across the country. When applied to our collective work, the concept describes leaders—both people and organizations—who take responsibility for forming working relationships to drive transformative change in regions and communities. Stewards also have a vested interest in promoting an equity orientation in regard to purpose, power, and wealth:
"Stewards of well-being and justice are people and organizations who share responsibility for working across differences to expand the vital conditions all people and places need to thrive." —Thriving Together: A Springboard for Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America, Introduction
All-America City Finalist communities exemplify how stewardship is best accomplished when folks work together across differences and sectors to expand the Vital Conditions that all people and places need to thrive. Learn more about the civic engagement practices that made the community of Rancho Cucamonga a 2020 finalist:
The Rancho Cucamonga City Council established Healthy RC as a comprehensive system of interconnected planning, program, policy, and partnership efforts that work across sectors to promote community health and equity. The initiative was established as a genuine partnership of government, community agencies, and grass-roots residents who collectively identify their community’s health challenges and work collaboratively to address them. Healthy RC led to several programs, including those highlighted, designed to improve health and well-being. Learn more here.
Steward Snapshot: Erika Lewis-Huntley and David Eoff
Erika Lewis-Huntley and David Eoff, leaders with the City of Rancho Cucamonga, joined Commons Good podcast host Stacy Wegley for a conversation about stewardship, belonging, and connection. Check out the excerpts to learn more about Erika and David’s experiences—and click on the audio clip to hear directly from Team RC.
Strong relationships are essential ingredients for transformative change. As Erika and David share below, these change-makers discovered the power of inclusive, meaningful community engagement through their stewardship journeys with Healthy RC.
Erika: I started with the city about 12 years ago and was directed by the city council to figure out what this healthy cities movement was about. I started to reach out to the community and hear from them about their challenges. We began to see it was much more than healthy eating and active living.
We started bringing departments together and saying: We're going to embark on this healthy cities initiative, and we want you at the table. We started going through the process of identifying how each department impacts the health of our community.
At first we got some unexpected reactions: I don't do health. I'm a city engineer. Public health is not my deal. So, we started building connections that led to aha moments. You do have purview over community health, whether it's the infrastructure, the environment, the planning, the maintenance. If there are overgrown shrubs on our sidewalks, people are not going to get safely to the parks to have physical activity or to gather with their family and community.
We started getting our internal group together and reaching out to the community--that's where the magic happened.
David: I've been with Rancho Cucamonga for almost a year now, and we reach out to the public on different projects. We used to send a notice and the same people usually showed up and shared their opinions. We heard them and boom: we've done our job; we've checked the box; we've done "community engagement."
We realized that we're not capturing all of the community, and we're not getting everyone's thoughts. As we reach out to community members now, we acknowledge them as the subject experts they are. They live in the community. They walk in those neighborhoods. They know what's going to be best for their children and for them as parents or as young adults. We value that input.
At the end of the day, when the community comes out and they are in support of a project that isn't always even in their neighborhood, that is really rewarding. It’s rewarding to know that they value the things that the city is doing, and they value the city as a whole.
As Healthy RC built relationships with community members, the team invested in Southwest Cucamonga, elevating previously unheard voices and perspectives.
Erika: We started going into the areas of Rancho Cucamonga that haven't historically been part of any kind of civic engagement efforts. We realized that they hadn't even been to a number of our city facilities and they really were siloed in their neighborhoods.
Much of Rancho is very suburban, middle income, and well-planned. But, in this other area of the city, it lacked infrastructure: no sidewalks, no grocery stores. It was a vastly different conversation when we asked: What are your challenges to health? What is inhibiting your ability to have a great quality of life?
10 years ago, I remember I sat down and there were three generations of women working together. It was a grandmother in her eighties, a mother probably in her fifties, and a teenage daughter. And they were doing a mapping exercise to identify their challenges to healthy eating and active living.
I can look at a map and walk around a neighborhood and see if there are missing sidewalks. But, the stories coming out of these discussions were more telling. We heard stories about children dodging cars in the street on their way to school, or kids walking to the corner store in the morning and buying hot Cheetos and soda for breakfast. We heard about kids that had nothing to do after school. These women should have been part of this journey the whole time.
During the early years of the coalition, it shed light on the challenges for that particular neighborhood to really engage in a meaningful way with the government. We had to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we haven't been doing things the best way—and we needed to change.
As Team RC looks ahead, despite the uncertainty, they remain hopeful about the future and are grateful for the strong foundation of Healthy RC.
David: I'm hopeful for positive change and increased compassion. I think a lot of these challenges we are faced with, whether it's related to our work or our role as employees or civic leaders, it comes back to people. And, I'm hopeful that people realize that the biggest change is going to start with us.