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All-America City Award Finalists Stewardship in Action: El Paso, Texas
Photo by Belinda Fewings 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 El Paso a 2020 finalist:
Time and again, the people of El Paso have come together—unified and determined in resolving its challenges, rising to support its regional and international neighbors in overcoming extreme adversity, and realizing far-reaching and mutually beneficial goals. As evidenced in these highlighted projects , El Paso is a community of excellence, progress, and unwavering resilience. Learn more here.
Steward Snapshot: Alexandro Simental
Alexandro Simental, City of El Paso's All-America 2020 Delegation Captain, joined Commons Good podcast host Stacy Wegley for a conversation about stewardship, belonging, and connection. Check out the excerpts to learn more about Alex’s experiences--and click on the audio clip to hear directly from Alex:
A longtime El Paso resident, Alex has worked toward building a powerful web of relationships to support community health and well-being.
I have been a part of the El Paso community for many, many years--and have been a public servant for almost all my adult life. Working for my community is very important to me. It's very close and dear to my heart. And over the years, I've come to learn that our community is about collaboration. It is about our network. It is about knowing who is on the other end of the phone when you need to connect a client to a service--to help make life better for someone in El Paso.
El Paso is very far from our own capital of Austin. We're actually closer to Phoenix, Arizona. Because we're so far from Austin, it puts us in a position to resolve our own issues--to find the answers within our community. We need to build trust among ourselves and ensure that we are responsive to what our community needs.
And, that’s my job: to organize and implement programs here at the health department to meet those needs. I work for the City of El Paso Department of Public Health. I work closely with other partners, other agencies, because I know we cannot do our job by ourselves in isolation.
El Paso leverages its network of relationships to invest in the community--and to build a strong sense of belonging and connection.
The City of El Paso has invested resources on mental health services and mental health literacy. For example, our first responders are trained in first aid mental health. This heightened skill-set allows police officers and other first responders to link people in the community to the resources they need instead of getting arrested. This is especially crucial when someone is having a breakdown - a mental health episode that requires professional help.
For a long time ago, El Paso didn’t have a medical school. As we know, there's a shortage of medical professionals throughout the country--and we really feel it here in El Paso. We tried for many years to get one and the community confronted many obstacles.
Finally, in partnership with many contributors and investors, including our philanthropic sector, the community now has the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine as part of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso. We're very proud of that. The school has grown tremendously--and it exemplifies what we're about. When we come together, we can meet the needs of the community.
El Paso demonstrates how resilient communities can be, leaning on relationships and connections to build back after crises and tragedies.
El Paso is a border city. We're smack on the border with Mexico--and just across the border is our sister city. We have over to 2 million people in the binational metropolitan region.
As you may know, we experienced a humanitarian crisis last year: thousands of asylum seekers came to our area, requesting asylum in the United States. Our community mounted a tremendous effort to help. The community-based and faith-based organizations pulled together to address the need--and people would just come by and bring food, clothing, blankets. People from all walks of life came to serve, including doctors, lawyers, and clergy.
On August 3, 2019, we also experienced a horrific shooting at the Walmart in Central El Paso. Our city has a history of being one of the safest cities in the United States year after year--and we are proud of being a safe city. We respect each other and everybody's welcome. When the shooting happened, it shook us to our core. But, we came together. It was a horrible day for us as a community, but the love that we showed and the duty we all felt to help one another was powerful.
I think much of our resilience has to do with that West Texas tenacity. We have a long history of being out in the desert. We grew into a large city--and a lot of us remember when El Paso was maybe half the size it is today. We have particular influences, too. Our culture is very much tied to Hispanic culture. There are many of us that had that upbringing: you need to take care of your brothers and sisters, your elders. You need to do with what needs to be done to ensure that your community is safe and that it is a place that you're proud of.
It's a mixture of our community, our culture, the way we see ourselves, the way we've always been able to look within to find solutions. We're proud of who and what we are--and we see ourselves as an important American city. So much of the country’s commerce comes in through El Paso. Our freeway system runs through our city, connecting the East and West. We are in a very important location and we understand that. We see ourselves as a city with a big heart.