Coalitions and Collaboration - Creating Passionate Change
In every county of Southern California, Pauline and I are witnessing a groundswell of support for Safe Routes to School. One of the key signs of this increasing interest is the creation of countywide coalitions formed around Safe Routes to School, healthy eating and active living. These coalitions and working groups consist of a wide variety of motivated and dedicated individuals from a variety of backgrounds, such as transportation planners, public health professionals, community-based organizations, school officials, teachers, students and parents.
While each of these coalitions are at a different stage of development and involvement with promoting walking and bicycling to school, they all have one important aspect in common - collaboration. Too often our in our institutions and communities, we find people and departments working in silos and not communicating. However, at these Safe Routes to School coalitions we are finding that collaboration can and will happen when people are passionate about their work, and that the Safe Routes to School coalitions in each county are building strong relationships.
These relationships are extremely important because, while safety and accessibility issues for Safe Routes to School are easily spotted on the streets and while the outcomes of an inactive lifestyle are identifiable in the home, creating effective policy change is rarely easy. Each community faces its own difficulties due to complexities in existing policies and laws in the local jurisdiction. However, through the collaboration at these meetings we see a growing awareness of the built environment's effect on our daily lives which helps to empower and encourage communities to act. The practical standpoint for this type of collaboration is that it develops efficiency, resource sharing, communication and motivation between government agencies. From a community perspective, the Safe Routes to School coalitions also offer a chance to bring people together around a Safe Routes to School and to start talking more holistically about our neighborhoods and the health of our communities.
Each community has different reasons for forming and continuing a coalition or work group. What they all have in common is energy and passion. The act of getting like-minded people together on a regular basis and creating momentum is an important, yet often overlooked, function of a coalition. It is so exciting to see community members and stakeholders participate actively during the meetings by providing their ideas on how to make their cities and neighborhoods safer and more pleasant places to walk and bicycle. What comes out over and over again is that people care about where they live, they care about kids, and that they are more than willing to create meaningful outcomes that have a lasting change their communities. These coalitions will be the foundations of our work going forward and we at the National Partnership feel truly privileged to work alongside such awesome partners.