Collaborating with Low-Income Communities of Color

Webinar date: February 26, 2008


  • What was the role of local schools in the project?

WalkSanDiego involved local elementary schools as key partners to engage community members (e.g. PTA, ELAC, volunteers, staff, etc) and host workshops and walk audits (e.g. provide space in cafeteria or other location). Schools were the center of the project as the neighborhood surrounding the school was analyzed based on a ¼ mile zone surrounding the school, which is commonly referred to as a walkable distance to school.

  • What does your training for promoters involve?


WalkSanDiego has trained promotoras at varying levels of intensity. Some promotoras have received various sessions of in-depth training sessions covering topics such as: benefits of walkability, how to evaluate walkability, how to improve walkability, how to advocate for walkability improvements, etc. These sessions included various walk audits where promotoras were guided on a walking evaluation of the surrounding neighborhood.

WalkSanDiego has also trained promotoras with fewer sessions as‘walkability 101’ training with a walkability presentation and practice walk audit.

  • Is the promotora a paid position?


WalkSanDiego has primarily worked with promotoras (local leaders) who are paid staff of a local community organization or research institution. However, WalkSanDiego has also trained volunteer (unpaid) promotoras, but there has been a high level of drop-out by volunteer promotoras.

  • How did you go about contacting and getting on-board the faith-based community in order to bring in those key people who have the trust and the ear of community members?


WalkSanDiego has worked with the faith-based community most recently through a local research project by San Diego State University Foundation (SDSU) known as, “Caminando con Fe” (Walking with Faith), focused on the promotion of walking clubs at a local church. In addition, WalkSanDiego trained local church members as promotoras on walkability and advocacy. The ‘Caminando con Fe’ promotoras were then able to promote walkability in and around the Church via relationships with Church staff (e.g. father, priest, sister, manager, youth minister, etc.) and City staff (e.g. police, engineering, parks, recreation, general services, etc.).

  • I very much appreciate your awareness of the need for capacity building and the concept that advocacy skills are the basis of sustainability. You spoke of need for bilingual staff. That has consistently been a strength in organizing within communities of color with English Language Learners, but I have found that having racial/ethnic representative staff is equally as essential. In Portland, Oregon, we target 5 predominate languages. Is anyone doing advocacy on a national level to provide funding that targets working with people from low income communities of color?


There are many foundations that provide funding for low-income communities and/or reducing health disparities such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, The California Endowment, etc.

Perhaps the NSRTS can speak to the national advocacy efforts for funding.

  • Were there any difficulties that you were not able to work around? I am talking basically about attitudinal.


In most cases, not everyone you encounter is going to be completely ‘on board’ with your project. But it is important to find the champions in every group, organization, school, City, etc that will be an active part of the team.

  • Can you give any more GOOD examples of what approaches worked to reach low income populations and encourage participation?



Our best practices that we have developed to date for reaching low-income populations were shared during the presentation. Please review the presentation posted online.

  • What are the critical differences in the way that the act of walking is perceived by communities of color (African American, Latino), versus the dominant culture? Is walking seen as an indicator of poverty or lack of sophistication?


There may be two issues here: first that ‘communities of color’ are now the majority in almost one-third of the most populous counties in the country, so it may not be appropriate to state that this is not the “dominant culture”. Second, if we look at it by low-income neighborhoods, which are predominately communities of color, walking is a necessity, as vehicle ownership may not be feasible. Therefore walking may be more common in low-income communities. However, this may lead to the association of vehicle ownership and social/economic status.

  • How did you find working with designers (architects, landscape architects, planners, civil engineers) and encouraging them to work with communities? Was there a learning curve for these professionals to work with?


The various City staff (e.g. engineers, planners, etc) that WalkSanDiego has worked with in Chula Vista was eager to speak with the community members and grateful for WalkSanDiego’s presence to conduct outreach and engage the residents. At least one City staff member attended every school workshop and walk audit to listen to the residents issues and start working on solutions. WalkSanDiego also helped to organize a training by Dan Burden on walkability and street design for the City staff.

  • How were Promotores recruited in Chula Vista?


As mentioned previously, WalkSanDiego has trained promotoras that were recruited through partner community organizations and research projects in Chula Vista. To my knowledge, these promotoras were recruited through other local community groups, community resource lists, etc.

  • Were you surprised by how many of your own assumptions you needed to question? Finding that your priorities weren’t being shared by your target must have been puzzling.


Working in low-income communities, or any community for that matter, you should not assume that your issue or priority is going to be top priority for the community members. Your mission may fall lower on the hierarchy of needs than desired, but it does not mean that it should be abandoned. It is also essential to re-frame your message depending on the audience that you are speaking with based on their ideals, values, and priorities. Working with predominately Latino parents at elementary schools in low-income communities, we found that focusing on family-centric values (e.g. safety of children and elders), cultural competency (e.g. language interpretation, bi-lingual staff, translated materials), and going to the community (e.g. workshops at the schools, provide childcare) were some of the key ways to engage these community residents.

  • What about issues of how to cross the street and how to “deal with” cars? People go about crossing the street in different ways in other countries, and I think it would be important for people to not only want to walk but also to know how to do so safely. Did you have a traffic safety education component to your program? Also traffic safety education for drivers? Thank you for the ideas on outreach!!! Getting people to public meetings is a major problem that we have, and we’ll try some of your suggestions!!


This particular project was not funded to conduct traffic safety education, such as street crossing. And as you suggest, there may be different laws or expectations regarding street crossing or other traffic safety (e.g. bike riding with or against traffic) in other countries, which may impact a new immigrants perception of traffic safety and pedestrian behavior. However, based on the walkability workshops and walk audits conducted by WalkSanDiego, the Chula Vista Elementary School District received Safe Routes to School Funding to conduct walking and biking promotion in many of their elementary schools, which will incorporate traffic safety education as well.



As mentioned previously, WalkSanDiego has trained promotoras that are paid through partner community organizations and research projects.

  • Tina, did your Pedestrian Master Planning process meet any opposition from bicycle advocates? Did they feel excluded and if so, how did you address this?


WalkSanDiego was a consultant on the City of San Diego’s Pedestrian Master Plan process. There was no active opposition from bicycle advocates and they did participate in community workshops. WalkSanDiego does not believe that the bicycle advocates felt excluded as there was an open invitation to participate in the Pedestrian Master Plan community workshops and the City had already completed the Bicycle Master Plan.

  • Was there a green infrastructure component?


One of our community partners is a local environmental organization, the Environmental Health Coalition. In addition, landscape improvements, such as more trees, parks, and open space were common requests.

  • Has anyone worked with rural Native American communities, if so what are the outcomes?


WalkSanDiego has not had the opportunity to work with rural Native American communities to date.

  • Where did you get the statistics about 68% of Latinos are overweight or obese? 94% of kids with type 2 diabetes are from communities of color?



Here are some related statistics:

Approximately 30% of non-Hispanic white adults were obese, and 45.0% of non-Hispanic black adults and 36.8% of Mexican American adults were obese. (CDC National Center for Health Statistics 2003-04, 2006)

Non-Hispanic Blacks and Latino/Hispanics are 1.8 and 1.7 times, respectively, more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic Whites. (NIDDK, 2005)


Any further questions or comments please contact:

Kristin Mueller, MPH

Program Manager


740 13th Street Suite 220

San Diego, CA 92101

Tel: 619-544-WALK (9255)

Fax: 619-531-WALK (9255)

Dedicated to enhancing the livability of communities and making walking a safe and viable option for all people

Questions for Austin Brown, NCSRTS

  • Is SRTS a generational precursor to Pre-Motorized Driver’s Education?

 The safe routes to school idea is more than pre-motorized driver’s education because of the various components involved with the program. If you presume that the pre-motorized driver education is model/ed/ after driver’s education then the only element of the program would be education targeting the user. For example, in driver’s education the student learns how to handle various traffic situations, discusses stopping distance, what to do if you run off the road etc. Applying a similar model to pre-motorized drivers education would simply involve educating the pedestrian or bicyclist how to walk safely and/or bicycle safely. Safe routes to school is broader than just educating students. It attempts to educate all users of the transportation system – walkers, bicyclist, motorists etc. While pedestrian safety education is part of a SRTS program it is far from the only element. Another aspect in which SRTS is more than pre motorized driver’s education is that the program seeks to include other strategies, such as engineering and enforcement, for creating safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclist.
Lastly, along with teaching the immediate safety skills children can use as pedestrians another benefit of SRTS is the notion that children who learn pedestrian and bike safety skills will become drivers who are more aware of pedestrian and bicyclists.

  • Have any communities established their SR2S team as a non-for-profit org, and if so, are they better equipped for change?

It is less common to hear of individuals forming a non-profit prior to beginning work on SRTS than it is to hear of small grassroots SRTS effort that grow into a program and eventually become a non-profit organization. Also, it is not uncommon for SRTS programs that are in the early stages partnering with an existing non-profit. You also may find that an existing non-profit organization learns about SRTS and takes on and grows a SRTS program as one of several program/activities in which they are involved.
Several years ago the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, a non-profit, developed a Safe Routes to School program. Since that time they have worked to build safe routes programs throughout the schools in the county by working with the schools, the community and local government. *To learn more about the benefits and draw backs of building their programs and to see how their non-profit status impacts their ability to change you may want to contact *Wendi Kallins the SRTS Program Director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. Her phone and email are 415-488-4101
Also, there is a case study on the National Centers website from Carson City Nevada. The case describes the works of a local non-profit organization did to build a pilot SRTS program for two local schools. The case details the experience and provides a contact number for calling with additional questions. The case is accessible at