VUgroup Through Vecinos Unidos, residents’ concerns are addressed both through neighborhood-level meetings as well as through larger community-level monthly forums. These communities now leverage an organized base of over 2,500 people working to improve the health of their communities. Currently, Vecinos are impacting their communities through service on local water and school boards. civic engagementBecause local issues are intertwined with those on the state, national and global level, DHF hosts candidate forums, census outreach, voter registration, voter education and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaigns. We’ve used our organized base to influence our representative’s votes on issues such as Health Care and Immigration, as well as to achieve commensurate local representation. The efforts of the DHF demonstrate that social justice and sustainable systemic change is achievable through relationship-building with community residents. These relationships allow for leveraging collective power and mobilizing residents through collaborative, non-violent direct action. While residents develop as local leaders, their communities are simultaneously transformed. To learn more about issues that Vecinos face, please review our Community Needs Assesment. [ppmaccordion][ppmtoggle title=”Community Forums”] Vecinos Unidos organize monthly community forums known as Juntas Generales (General Assemblies) in the communities where DHF organizes.  These meetings are open to the public.  Topics vary from month to month depending on resident interest, current events, and DHF advocacy efforts.  Past meeting topics have included environmental issues, domestic violence, financial literacy, nutrition, immigration, and workers rights among others. The Juntas Generales connect residents to information and resources that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to.  Through these monthly forums Vecinos gain experience in public speaking, preparing and giving presentations, group facilitation, and event coordination.  Vecinos acquire these leadership skills through their actual participation. Tulare Forum PICTURED ABOVE: Vecinos intently listen during a presentation at one of the first community forums in Tulare County. [/ppmtoggle][ppmtoggle title=”Mario’s Story”] Mario Serna was a former farm worker and long time resident of Arvin, CA. While attending a city council meeting he was approached by DHF community organizer Timoteo Prado. Mario talked with Timoteo about his concerns for Arvin, such as insufficient work opportunities, the need for safer streets and a lack of educational opportunities for youth. When Timoteo asked Mario if he would participate in the Foundations organizing efforts, Mario said, “I’ll help you but I won’t speak in public.” Then, in the summer of 2008, the city of Arvin had a measure on the ballot that would generate funding for youth recreation through a one cent tax increase. Working with the community, Mario and the Vecinos Unidos alongside the DHF Youth group helped pass the measure obtaining a 71% vote of approval. After this victory, Mario became one the most active members in Vecinos Unidos, and was soon the man on the microphone at the monthly Vecinos Unidos meetings. Mario’s commitment is evidenced by his insistence that his family continue the work of the DHF after he was hospitalized in March. Mario Serna was recognized by the City of Arvin for his dedication to improve the lives of others. Mario has since passed on. His family and friends continue to work for the betterment of their community to honor his legacy and create a better future for their children. [/ppmtoggle][/ppmaccordion]