Reclaim Las Calles Initiative Awarded $124,970 from Vitalyst Health Foundation to Support Community-Led Projects in South Tucson

Tucson, AZ (July 21, 2017)– Thanks to a $124,970 grant from Vitalyst Health Foundation, Living Streets Alliance and partners in South Tucson will be leading a series of community-driven activities with youth and their families to reimagine and activate 8th Avenue, a key corridor in the community.  When Vitalyst Health Foundation evaluated applications for its 2017 Innovation Grants, the organization was looking for nonprofits using breakthrough approaches to address issues that have a direct impact on the health of a community.

The project dubbed as Reclaim Las Calles will build upon continued efforts by South Tucson partners to cultivate community leaders, honing in on schools and youth centers located along S. 8th Avenue as hubs for this initiative.  Capacity building efforts will evolve into broader community engagement, allowing for creative place-making opportunities to spark conversations about their neighborhood.

Vanessa Cascio, Program Manager with Living Streets Alliance (LSA), explains that young people have been an especially important focus in South Tucson,

Ochoa students bike to visit their local bike shop, Cicli Noe with their Bicas instructors.

“Along South 8th Avenue, there is Ochoa Community School, Mission View Elementary, and John Valenzuela Youth Center, all of which have been catalysts in elevating the conversation about community health in the broadest sense –educational attainment, youth leadership development, drug prevention, immigration rights, and the list goes on. Our goal is to support that work while exploring barriers to healthy transportation and how increased mobility can support those efforts.”

Emily Yetman, Living Streets Alliance’s Executive Director adds, “Our [LSA’s] work goes well beyond simply adding a bicycle lane and sidewalk.  When we consider how our streets as shared public space, it suddenly becomes a much larger quality of life issue. Do our streets guarantee safe and equitable access to everyone in the community? Are everyone’s mobility needs met? Do they feel dignified in the way they get around? We appreciate this grant from Vitalyst Health Foundation not just for the much-needed funds, but also because Vitalyst truly understands the need to dig deeper to address more complex issues that affect the health and well-being of a community.”

When Gloria Hamelitz-Lopez of the John Valenzuela Youth Center describes their after school youth bike club, she drives home the point that community connection is about more than just physical infrastructure. “Our bike club is not just about bike safety education, which we know is important. When the bike club takes field trips to visit local businesses and talk to their owners, its sends a message to the kids that these are safe spaces in our community. They get to know these folks in their own neighborhood. It’s about connecting our community, and it’s an act of reclamation for our youth to navigate our streets in this way.”

This project will allow for unique opportunities for families and neighbors to articulate their experiences out in their community and what they may envision for their neighborhood streets in much more organic and creative ways than traditional planning practices typically allow for.

Yetman elaborates, “The goal for us is not to be the one leading the conversation, rather the community. They are the experts when it comes to the needs and opportunities in their own neighborhood and our role is to bring resources, connections, and support to the table to make their vision a reality.”   She adds that in the realm of transportation planning, public engagement is typically a box to be checked. This project will flip that upside down and let the community drive changes, based on what they see on the ground.

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