January 16th, 2012

How Volunteerism Can Help Revitalize San Diego’s Inner City Neighborhoods

Volunteers are key to a campaign's success -- and I strongly believe they will be key to San Diego's success.

We see this already in all kinds of undertakings. Volunteers are the force behind successful bake sales, little leagues, church services, and cancer walks.

So why can’t they be part of the solution for San Diego's city services too? They can and they will be if I am elected mayor.

Mayoral candidates speak at 'State of the Inner City Address'

By MITCHELL STEINFELD, The Daily Transcript

San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio and state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher offered suggestions to prevent gang involvement and increase educational participation on Wednesday, while addressing nonprofit tutoring group Reality Changers at their fifth annual “State of the Inner City” address.

The address, open to Reality Changers students and board members, was held to coincide with Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City speech. According to a press release, the event was held to highlight issues affecting San Diego’s less prosperous neighborhoods as well as highlight the success of Reality Changers, a 10-year-old charity that has helped raised more than $13 million in scholarships for first-generation college students.

DeMaio and Fletcher were joined at the podium by Reality Changers Founder and President Christopher Yanov, as well as San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Bill Kowba.

“This is a program that works. This is a program that we need to commit to and expand,” DeMaio said. “I believe that our city ought to be measured and evaluated based on how well it serves not just the richest neighborhoods, but our poorest neighborhoods. It’s time for us to ensure that city government works for all of our neighborhoods.”

At the event, held at Reality Changers headquarters in City Heights, Yanov announced that the organization will expand its services to 10 San Diego schools, a move that would double the amount of students the program can reach. The group is currently searching for schools to partner with, at no cost.

“It is incumbent upon city leaders here in San Diego to create new solutions to out-popularize gangs,” Yanov said. “This is accomplished not by providing so-called alternatives to drugs and gangs but instead by creating a new college-going culture for inner-city youth so that these students can indeed change their realities.”

Fletcher spoke about steering students toward goals like getting a college education, as opposed to just steering them away from gangs.

“I had some friends in town and I was out teaching them how to surf and I told them when you get up on the board and you start going you’ve got to look at the board, because where your eyes go your head goes, and where your head goes your body goes,” Fletcher said. “You put your eyes on that goal, and where your head goes your body goes -- you look at these walls and you see a lot of bodies that are going places like Stanford and UCLA.”

Fletcher said his economic plan for San Diego focuses on inspiring innovation and supporting a healthy middle class to ensure access to the American Dream. For this, he said, education is crucial.

“As mayor we pledge to talk about education, in a way not that seeks to take over our schools but to help them and assist them and provide them the tools and support they need,” Fletcher said.

DeMaio outlined an agenda that he said would help city leaders pay as much attention to the issues in the inner city as wealthy and well-connected areas. The plan focused on stabilizing the economy and investing money in infrastructure and in opportunities for youth.

“As part of my roadmap to recovery, we lay out how we can fix our city’s financial problems,” DeMaio said. “I am committed to a $497 million program over the next five years to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. ... We must ensure we provide an opportunity society in San Diego to create the sort of jobs that our economy requires but also to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to fill those jobs.”

Sitting alongside the candidates was current Reality Changers student Marcos Olascoaga. He read an excerpt from his college application essay to Harvard University. Over the past 10 years, the program has sent students to top universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and University of California, San Diego.

DeMaio was orphaned at age 14 and taken in by Jesuits who helped him go to college. He said his office adopts a charity every quarter, and if elected, he will look to make charity a priority.

“One of the things I will be announcing in the next couple weeks is the creation of a chief volunteer officer in the mayor’s office that will lead my office of civic engagement and philanthropy. Your city government has the opportunity to work with nonprofits, with foundations, with charities and with our businesses to support important programs like Reality Changers,” DeMaio said. “If we take a partnership model we can do a lot more for our neighborhoods than the current government-centered model that’s failing our community.”

Mayoral candidates Rep. Bob Filner and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis were also invited to speak at the address but were unable to attend.