Key to this success was resisting the temptation to come in with a predetermined agenda based on others’ priorities, instead letting youth drive the work from the beginning. Young people quickly landed on safe routes to school as one issue that deserved their attention. “A large portion of community doesn’t have sidewalks. In addition to Freeway 140, they have two sets of railroad tracks they have to cross, and many of our young people have seen friends get hit and killed on the tracks.” Claudia took youth to health fairs and worked with them to organize several community forums on the issue of unsafe transportation.
“I believe it’s our responsibility to engage youth and really bring them to the table,” said Claudia. “Now our leaders listen to young people sometimes even more than they listen to us grown-ups.”
Youth displayed their photos and research and did multiple presentations at these events, attracting the attention of county planners and the County Board of Supervisors. Advocates partnered with the county to successful land an environmental justice grant from Caltrans, funding further community engagement. Youth worked to author SB 1151, a California Senate bill to create safer school zones by implementing an additional fine for those violating traffic laws in and around the school zones. Although the Governor vetoed the bill, Claudia and her partners have reason to believe it could pass in the future if key changes are made. Still, youth have learned from the experience—and more importantly, leaders have learned to seek their valuable contributions.