Culturally Responsive Prevention with the Close 2 Home Program
- Johanna Matamoros, Prevention Education Specialist: Johanna.Matamoros@StrengthUnited.org
- Samantha Guevara, Prevention Education Specialist: Samantha.Guevara@StrengthUnited.org
- Strength United
- (818) 772-9981
- Instagram: @strengthunitedcsun | Facebook: @StrengthUnited
Our ultimate goal is to help Canoga Park community members mobilize and be the change they want to see in their own community. The challenges we’ve seen are gang violence, general acceptance of violence (DV), deportation concerns, and no current open/safe spaces to meet and discuss issues. The Close 2 Home program emerged as the best approach to addressing these challenges, because it allows community members to meet and have a safe space to talk freely. People have the chance to get to know people who are facing or are survivors of the same issues they are dealing with. Lastly, it gives them the opportunity to become leaders in their own neighborhoods and get others to feel comfortable talking about this topic.
Using this approach, we tabled at an event in Canoga Park where we asked community members specifically what they liked and disliked about their community. We got a lot of good feedback and were able to learn a little more about the challenges they were experiencing. To combat all these challenges, we had to learn to become patient and understanding. We are starting Close 2 Home in an entirely new community, so we understand that it will take some time for people to trust us and open their arms to us.
We also had to learn to try to adapt to everyone’s different, busy schedules. Especially with adults, we realized that it’s hard to find a time that works for everyone because many are parents/caregivers—but we’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible. We quickly learned that Canoga Park is very culturally rich, and we are taking that into account as we run meetings and different activities. Many of the participants felt that they could not be part of the group because they had children, so we began to provide childcare when needed. Our adult group is completely run in Spanish, and we also bring culturally specific snacks, like pupusas. Additionally, we support local businesses as much as possible to keep Canoga Park thriving.
In our Youth Group, our greatest successes and challenges have taken place in Canoga Park High School/the general Canoga Park community. One highlight has been forming a relationship with the Freshman counselor, Ms. Michaels. She has been the greatest advocate for getting our program onto the campus. She understands the importance of our work and is willing to help make sure it succeeds. We could use more of this kind of support from school staff and administration, as well as from fellow Close 2 Home staff members working with youth.
We’ve created more opportunities by meeting with prominent local leaders about creating a mural that represents their community. It has been approved and we are placing it at the intersection of Wyandotte and Owensmouth, in the middle of Canoga Park. From this mural, we were able to start a West Valley Collaborative Meeting, called La Hub, which gives different organizations in the West Valley an opportunity to come together once a month and share resources with each other in order to better serve our communities and clients. Recently, we were able to finish the orientation phase with a group of youth at the Alliance for Community Empowerment in Canoga Park. This was completed in six weeks with a group of young people who are often overlooked and not given the benefit of the doubt. After six weeks, they learned so much more than they thought they would, and it was really amazing to be able to be a part of that.
Our greatest challenge has been retaining and recruiting students. We get students who say they are interested, but we don’t hear back from them. I believe as the school year is starting up again, we’ll get more students looking to participate in new programs. While we have not overcome this challenge yet, I remain positive no matter the outcome of my goal. As previously mentioned, staying patient and understanding will be key throughout this entire process. We’re learning to not take things personally and to celebrate even the tiniest of wins.
This theme also ran parallel in our work with the Adult Group, where we work with people of all genders and ethnicities (though Canoga Park is predominantly Latinx).
It’s been challenging to maintain attendance. My first group meeting had nine adult participants and decreased the following weeks. I kept in contact with many to continue encouraging them to participate, but there were factors that prevented them from attending: time, summer break, and ICE presence in the area. My initial reaction was to take this personally. I would ask myself: Is there anything I did wrong? Did I say something that might have pushed them to become uninterested? I slowly began to learn that it takes time to gain the community’s trust. My team always made sure to remind me to be patient, remember that things won’t always go as planned, and celebrate the all small wins!
One of my biggest successes in the Adult Group has to be from our participant Hercilia. She was the only one who continued attending the meetings, even when she was the only community member in the room. She has never missed a meeting and constantly let us know how much she has learned in these past months. She is now actively recruiting Canoga Park community members at different events, during her own personal time, and at social groups she attends. She has also begun facilitating orientation to new members.
Slowly but surely, we’ve seen an increase in participants for our Adult Group. We started to take a different approach to recruitment because of Hercilia’s drive. She is now sharing her story and the knowledge gained from being part of the leadership team with other community members. It has been so powerful to see Hercilia thrive as a leader.
Hercilia sent this text message to me about her experience: “Querida Johanna gracias por creer en mí y por confiar en mí. He aprendido mucho con ustedes. Aprecio y valoro la oportunidad que me dan de colaborar con el proyecto. Me ayuda sentirme útil y productiva. Muchas gracias!!!” Translation: “Dear Johanna, thank you for believing in me and for trusting me. I have learned a lot with you. I appreciate and value the opportunity you all have given me to collaborate with the project. It helps me feel useful and productive. Thank you!!!”
In the end, I’ve learned that it is very important to constantly stay in communication, even when participants can’t attend. This helps build relationships and trust. I am patient and always facilitate the meetings as if there’s a room full of participants, even if there is only one.