Creating a healthy, connected community

On April 26th, nearly 175 community members came together to attend the first-ever #LIVEPajaroValley Conference. The conference was intended to celebrate the collaborative work being done to promote A Community of Opportunity for All here in the Pajaro Valley — to ensure that it’s a place where everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need to flourish.

We gathered at Veterans Hall, a respectable old structure constructed to honor those who struggle and sacrifice in the name of democracy and freedom, ideals critically important in our current era. We came together in a space that has hosted many youth basketball games, folklórico classes, Native American dance lessons and Quinceañeras, as well as political rallies, nonprofit staff meetings and gatherings of veterans. This structure is a testament to our rich culture and local history, our desire to connect and re-create. It was a fitting location, as those of us convened desired to draw inspiration from those who have come before us and build from valued like democracy and freedom, service and joy.

Participants came from nonprofits, city and county government, local businesses, health clinics, the school district, churches and community groups. We were brown, black, white, red, yellow, straight, gay, transgender and a swirl of many of these. We were elders and youth, bridged by Millennials and Gen Xers. Though we threw the net of invitation as far as we could, we know — still — that we fell short. All deserve a chance to be part of a conversation about how to realize A Community of Opportunity for All.

We also celebrated the talented and caring human beings that make the Pajaro Valley such a desirable and beautiful place to call home, raise a family, start a business and realize a dream. We were awakened by Kabwasa, a local hip hop artist, and challenged by Mayor Paco Estrada. We were nourished by Teen Kitchen Project, a nonprofit that uses food to heal and teach life skills, and encouraged to reflect by Maria Elena de la Garza, a lifelong Watsonville resident directing one of the county’s largest nonprofits addressing the challenges and root causes of poverty. Together, we talked about the challenges we face, obstacles that make it difficult for hard-working, community-minded, longtime and, especially, low-income Latinx residents and their families to attain economic stability, build wealth, live in safe and affordable housing and experience a good quality of life.

We realized, each of us brings a vital contribution to manifesting “an equitable, thriving, resilient community where everyone shares responsibility for ensuring the health and well-being of all people, at every stage of life,” the aspiration of Santa Cruz County’s Collective of Results and Evidence-based Investments (CORE) Initiative, an evolving movement to achieve equitable health and well-being. We reaffirmed that “I am, ultimately, my neighbor’s keeper — and she, mine.”

From the individual to the family, to the community, each of us can commit to activities of care that bring us closer to fostering a place where everyone feels safe, loved, nourished and encouraged to realize their potential. As a collective, we renewed our understanding that authentic and highly engaged collaboration is the only way we will be able to address the big, intersectional, complex issues that lie on the pathway toward equity and well being for everyone in the Pajaro Valley.

As a local community member, I am deeply grateful to those who planned and produced the conference, and all those who showed up to participate. I acknowledge the heads, hands and hearts still to be drawn into this conversation, and commit to do my utmost to broaden the circle of inclusion and participation. My sincere hope is that the inspiring conversations and bold ideas presented compel each of us to take action, to take a first step toward an equitable, flourishing, connected community. There are many wonderful options: meet a new neighbor and share conversation, volunteer for Census 2020, speak to your council member about what matters to you, patronize a local business, plant a garden or a tree. Together, as Gwendolyn Brooks says, “We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.” Let’s live those words.


Caitlin Brune is the former CEO of Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.


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