Neighborhood Leadership Academy Launched in S.B.
By Dianne Anderson
San Bernardino city residents have high hopes and even higher energy around what they can collectively do to improve their community. So much so, in fact, that many volunteers had to be placed on a waiting list to participate in the program this time around next year.
Last month, the Neighborhood Services Center drew out a large crowd of dignitaries and officials, and community residents were the vast majority of those attending. The event also launched the long-awaited Neighborhood Leadership Academy.
“We had a lot of people signing up, some of the people were so excited they brought other people,” said Amelia Lopez, president of the Neighborhood Association Council.
Calls came in until the last minute on October 2 from residents asking if it was too late to sign up. The first six-week class pulled more interest than expected with 46 participants.
Residents are working together on community projects, and they now have a full cross-section of participants ages 23 to some in their 70’s. She said one important goal is that everyone value and respect the diversity they represent.
“They have some commonalities that they live in the city, and they still believe in the city. They are good people, and they want to give back,” said Lopez.
The group meets Wednesdays, and two Saturdays until mid-November, when they will conduct a neighborhood project, and then graduation. Community projects will wrap up next June. She said their grant from the city must be used within the fiscal year, and will pay some of the costs for leadership.
Depending on its success, City Council is expected to continue support.
To her knowledge, she said it’s the first time the city of San Bernardino and neighborhood associations have come together in this way. The matching grant from the city came in just under $50,000 for the entirely volunteer-led effort and community projects.
She said it’s good for the community and good for the city.
“It’s an alliance,” she said. “We are not asking money for the organization, it’s not a political maneuver. All of us can take credit in this.”
Lopez said she pushed to get the San Bernardino project for nearly two years after connecting with the Leadership Academy in Long Beach, a comprehensive model that started in 1994. She was impressed with the program’s success, which still has alumni coming out over 20 years later to help their community.
The Long Beach program also secures grants and donations from business groups, something she hopes to emulate locally.
“We are willing to help do this at no cost to the city,” she said. ” I don’t get paid. Volunteers don’t get paid. The only people that get paid are those that help us at the city.”
Classes are free to residents, and no experience is required, only to complete the training, and work side by side with fellow residents. The classes have pulled a diverse mix of Black, Latino and white community members.
Many residents are learning new things, such as their specific ward information, and their local officials. They’ll also learn other important skills, like grant writing.
But whether or not they decide to stay with the academy over the long term, Lopez said they can take their newfound skills wherever they go in life.
“You can apply it to maybe a church group or a parent-teacher group, a city group, or consider being appointed to commissions to serve the city in different capacities,” she said.
Located at Vanir Tower, the Neighborhood Service Center is new, but it’s still a work in progress. Residents are welcome to drop in to access information about city programs. Participants are working on a resident welcome packet, and creating a large email base to keep the community informed.
Charle Jacobs, president of Terrace West Neighborhood Association, said she’s happy to see the project gain speed, and said she can’t wait to help introduce it to others in the community.
She also looks forward to learning how to pull down extra grant money to improve her neighborhood.
For her specific area, she said that Baseline and Meridian is the sore spot that she feels the classes and projects can help address.
The class may also help determine the best use of new money that her park will receive as part of the $800,000 Meadowbrook Park bridge insurance policy payout from the 2017 fire that destroyed the bridge.
Of those dollars, Councilmember Bessine Richard requested the council support $150,000 for Nicholson. Lytle Creek and Nunez park also received some funding from the insurance disbursement.
For years, Jacobs has frequently come out of pocket to deal with countless park and structural challenges, mostly for the high cost of water. Nicholson’s irrigation has been off for months.
“There’s no incentive to do anything without water. The grass is just toast,” she said. “Our fruit trees are dying. The tumbleweeds are as tall as I am.”
But she feels that all the leadership classes that the presidents are presenting can help improve the community in ways that were not available in the past. Neighborhood Associations were usually considered just as park cleanups.
“We were glad to do that at that time, but everything should evolve,” she said. “We needed to reinvent ourselves. This is kind of the launching point.”