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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 10:31 am | Fair 58º

Good for Santa Barbara 2017: Noozhawk's 2nd Annual report on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Sponsored by Montecito Bank & Trust

For Just Communities Central Coast, Implementing Change Is a Collective Effort

At the core of its mission to improve inclusion is empowering individuals from schools, nonprofit organizations and other entities

Just Communities Central Coast member Dr. Leola Dublin Macmillan writes down her thoughts for an activity in which participants share “who they are” during an annual retreat. Click to view larger
Just Communities Central Coast member Dr. Leola Dublin Macmillan writes down her thoughts for an activity in which participants share “who they are” during an annual retreat. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

“The meetings and marches and vigils are cool, but if the enemy isn’t present, you’re just talking slick to a can of oil.”
— Darnell Lamont Walker

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article.]

Social change doesn’t take place in a vacuum. While technology lets users ban the naysayers from discussion forums, block social media contact with people who don’t see things a certain way, as well as pick and choose the news they see, Just Communities Central Coast strives to open the gateway to meaningful discussion among all players in this game of life.

“Nothing changes without discourse, but you have to have discourse with civility. That’s what’s going away. Civility is losing the fight, and we’re trying to bring it back,” said Jack Rivas, board co-chairman and longtime volunteer for Just Communities.

Through its work with schools, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and other entities, Just Communities strives to create diverse, inclusive communities where thriving people have value and voice. It’s no small task, and with the typical small staff of any local nonprofit organization, that means loads of work by volunteers.

“The work we do wouldn’t be possible without volunteers,” Just Communities Executive Director Jarrod Schwartz.

With its staff of seven and stable of nearly 50 volunteers, Just Communities provides leadership development, dialogue facilitation, consulting and coaching, and advocacy work. Its goal is to reach people at the individual level to see where they fit within larger issues of equity and justice, to create a sense of urgency for tackling those issues, and to inspire them to tackle systems to make them more just.

“We’re calling things out when they need to be called out, bringing people together because discourse is actually a good thing,” said Rivas, a counselor at UC Santa Barbara.

Rivas has been instrumental in the implementation of a variety of Just Communities programs, not the least of which has been the CommUnity Leadership Institute. The program provides a summer residential retreat for up-and-coming community leaders. Teen activists gather to discuss social issues and to develop strategies to go forth and implement real change.

“We’re about empowering individuals. We do a lot of work with schools,” Rivas said. “A lot of people, particularly youth, feel disenfranchised, that no one cares what they think, no one thinks they can do anything. We feel like they should be empowered to be stronger individuals, more potent individuals whose ideas affect the community.”

Sometimes, the change can be as simple as providing a voice to those who don’t share a common language.

Cuca Silva, among Just Communities’ newest board members, serves as an interpreter for the nonprofit organization’s Language Justice work and as a facilitator for its Parents for Inclusion, Diversity and Access program. She got involved to serve as an interpreter among school officials, parents and students.

“The other person should hear exactly what a person said, rather than a summary or changing wording to whatever the interpreter thinks would be best. I feel there’s a huge need. There’s no way I can sit back and watch this happen in front of me,” Silva said.

During the course of his nearly 16 years with Just Communities, Rivas also has volunteered as a trainer, facilitator and program leader for programs focused on educators, parents and law enforcement as well as programs for other organizations.

“I’ve been doing social justice work my whole life,” Rivas said. “It’s important to me. Being part of many marginalized communities, I’ve suffered from that. Whatever I can do to give back to my community is beneficial not only for my well-being but also for others.”

It’s disheartening, he said, to find that he’s talking today about the same inequities he was talking about 30 years ago.

“When I see things with my own eyes, when I read things that are happening, it’s very tiring. But if you believe in something, it’s worth fighting for,” Rivas said. “I’m not going to stop. Things haven’t changed that much really. I don’t ever think I will see an equitable society, but that doesn't mean I shouldn’t try. It’s not a destination; it’s a journey, and I’ve agreed to go along.”

Just Communities turns to the community to help develop, grow and sustain its programs.

“We need people who see our work and want their child to go through it. I want nonprofits who bring us in to make their boards more diverse, who say that work matters to them and to take it with them wherever they go, whether that’s school, business, government agencies, what have you,” Schwartz said.

Silva said the Language Justice program needs help in the form of interpreters who can adopt Just Communities’ best practices.

“We need a lot of help. We have a few interpreters, like myself, who speak Spanish and English, but we need interpreters for the Mixteco people who have many dialects,” Silva said.

And, like all nonprofit organizations, Just Communities Central Coast needs financial support. While school programs are partially funded by the district, those programs are typically subsidized by grants. The 50 youths who take part in the CommUnity Leadership Institute pay no fees for the program that develops their leadership potential and has a proven track record of instituting change.

“Our overall budget this year is the biggest it’s ever been, just over $900,000,” Schwartz said. “We need every size donation to make that happen.”

Click here for more information about Just Communities Central Coast. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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