Building Healthy Communities trains local citizens on how to engage in government to make positive change.
By Caitlin Fillmore
Building Healthy Communities steps in where high school civics might have left off – offering political education to demystify the process of being an engaged citizen.
The nonprofit coordinates and empowers teams of everyday people who are passionate about fixing problems in their neighborhoods as varied as access to green spaces or dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.
Originally a state initiative of the California Endowment, BHC has evolved considerably over the last 12 years. Once “super-centric” to Salinas, it also now serves South Monterey County and the Monterey Peninsula.
“It’s all about building the type of youth and resident leadership that really transforms a community. Our vision for our community is to be thriving, and not paycheck to paycheck,” Executive Director Andrea Manzo says. That means tackling both short-term and systemic problems facing vulnerable people, namely Black and Hispanic communities.
Skylar Chubbs serves as the lead Black power building youth organizer for the Seaside Rising Action Team. For Chubbs, youth leadership is essential. “Young local residents should have the resources and political leverage to address and break down the youth pay gap, rising inflation and systemic barriers that work together to oppress Black, POC and LGBTQ+ community members in Seaside,” she says.
Donations during Monterey County Gives! support ongoing political education and internships for the more than 150 people working on its seven action teams across Monterey County. Most participants in the action teams don’t have typical formal education and are often low-income or middle-class people of color, Manzo notes. But what volunteers may lack in political savvy, they draw instead from their lived experiences. BHC believes in the ability of any motivated citizen to learn and positively influence the political process.
“It’s so beautiful to see the power people feel. You see it in their eyes just by knowing a little more about how things work. Finding the name for what they know and the words for what people in positions of power use,” Manzo says. “Once a person knows they have the power to change things, you will never take that away.”