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  • Writer's pictureLizeth Antonio

Pathways towards building access and inclusion

The concepts of accessibility and inclusion can take any shape or form, but what does it look like in community? Key elements that can impact accessibility and inclusion can include: Language, Location, Technology and Affordability.

Through our program we’ve seen the impact language access can influence community wellbeing. In the U.S there is no official language spoken but the most common languages spoken are English and Spanish.

In Los Angeles County, English is rated the highest spoken language (43.2%) followed by Spanish (36%). When we look at the languages spoken among the population in Santa Monica, there is quite a difference: 73.05% of residents are monolingual in English, and 26.95% of residents speak a different language but within this group, Spanish is the most spoken language rating at 11.17% of the population. In our team’s lived experience and our work in community engagement we’ve seen first hand how language access is necessary in cities like Santa Monica. Community members that speak different languages are more likely to feel excluded when there aren't spaces available for the language they speak. So, how does the Wellbeing Microgrant Program help? Applicants are welcomed to propose and lead a project that breaks language barriers.

Throughout the years, a total of 27 projects have been inclusive to communities that speak a different language other than English. These projects created opportunities to boost: financial literacy, civic engagement, physical exercise, community building, skill building, and start businesses. One project that has exemplified accessibility is the “Costura/Sewing” project led by Lourdes and Adriana.

Adriana Policarpo learned of the Microgrant program through participating in a Wellbeing Microgrant Project called Tejiendo Nuestros Sueños (Knitting our dreams) led by Gabriela Solano. Gabriela created a space for mothers to learn a new craft and decompress from big things that were weighing on their mind thus creating a knitting circle. Participants were encouraged to share their hopes and dreams, whether it was things they hoped for in their childhood to adulthood. Adriana was one participant that openly shared about her dreams of becoming a Fashion Designer as well as the technical training she received for Fashion Design when she grew up in Mexico. She shared that she currently offers tailoring services and custom orders but her hope was to someday have a classroom where she could teach children how to sew. Through much encouragement and moral support from the knitting circle, she applied to the Wellbeing Microgrant Program.

Adriana noted that sewing classes in Spanish weren’t readily available in the Westside area- it was more likely to find classes and events offered in Spanish outside of the westside area which made it difficult for most people to reach due to time and transportation. Another issue she identified was affordability and access to sewing machines. In order to address those needs, with the Microgrant, Adriana was able to launch free sewing workshops providing materials for children at Virginia Ave. Park. 

Once the workshops began, Adriana noticed that the mothers had a great interest in sewing and learning alongside their children so the workshops became a parent-child bonding experience. The community that was built through the workshops became an asset to spreading the word about free Spanish sewing workshops that more women began to come to the workshops- in particular women getting closer to retirement. During the workshops, Adriana encouraged her participants that once they learned the basics of sewing they could use this skill to increase economic opportunities for themselves, through: providing alteration services and/or creating/selling products like headbands, tote bags and more.

In their final meeting, the group was asked to share a few words of reflection about the workshops, many of the women/mothers expressed they had found the class to be useful for their own emotional and mental wellbeing-it was motivating to be in a group that allowed them to obtain a new skill and meet new people they could share this process with. 

Translated from Spanish to English:

“I never imagined I would be able to fix my own clothes”

Most expressed that having something to do on a Friday afternoon was something they all looked forward to attending. Mothers that attended the workshops with their children expressed that the workshops allowed them to reinforce bonds with their children. All participants had an interest in continuing the workshops to expand their knowledge and skill in sewing.

Translated from Spanish to English:

“It [the workshop] was very productive for me because not only did I save paying a fee to learn sewing skills, but now I can also help someone else and even have some income by putting into practice what I learned.”

Among the reflections from the older demographic was Lourdes, who came to the workshops hoping to improve her sewing skills; she reflected that once she reaches retirement she plans to use her sewing skills to continue bringing income through offering alterations in her neighborhood. She also expressed that she wanted more workshops to be available for adult Spanish speakers focused on “Tailoring your own clothes”, so she set her mind to apply to the Microgrant Program. 

Lourdes’ project “Costura” (Sewing) was selected and as a leader she hired Adriana with the intention of providing accessible workshops in Spanish focused on alterations to promote economic opportunity. The workshops welcomed new faces, as well as non-spanish speakers to build their sewing skills; at least half of the participants from Adriana’s project were regular participants for Lourdes’ workshops. 

Through each session, new creative avenues were discussed to be integrated into the workshops. One participant in the workshops created crochet purses, her goal in coming to the workshops was to learn how to sew a lining for her purses; the completion of her purse inspired the group to request to learn how to make crochet purses and its lining- however, the workshops came to an end in December and there wasn’t any time to begin acquiring that skill.

Understanding how essential these workshops were in the community, Lupita Dixon- a participant of the Costura project- advocated for the workshops to continue under the programming of her community group called F.U.N (Familias Universales Network). FUN is a grassroots group that has existed for many years, that works to connect and hold resources for Latino families across the Santa Monica area; FUN also hosts the Latino Senior Club which has recently revived post-pandemic.

With the adoption of the Costura project, FUN has coordinated a full day of activities in Spanish including the sewing workshops, crochet workshops and culminates with the Latino Senior Club where they provide social opportunities and have guest speakers share about local resources.

Currently, the Costura group continues to meet every Thursday morning at Virginia Ave. Park 

Holding events where accessibility is at the forefront of planning can impact the community in ways we might not have imagined. Through reflections of the Costura project, we see the impact language, location and technology (sewing machines) and affordability have towards:

  • acquiring a new skill

  • raising mental and emotional wellbeing 

  • Improving a sense of hope and

  • Improving economic opportunities for their future

Through projects like this, individuals are able to connect with communities that previously felt inaccessible to them; We have learned a shared understanding that: 

“If you give funds directly to community members, they will know what is needed to improve the wellbeing of their community”

How would you help shape accessibility in your community?

If you are inspired by our work, please consider donating here. Your contribution will help us continue impacting the overall community wellbeing in Santa Monica and beyond.

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