Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:
This shared vision of civic engagement is both overarching and neighborhood-specific, taking into account unique attributes of neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Engagement Program empowers residents to create strong neighborhoods with a high quality of life. Leaders from all ethnic groups are emerging from the program and are now active in five neighborhoods.
1.) Soil Born Farms: Feeding Body and Soul
California may fill the nation’s grocery carts, thanks to a robust agricultural economy, but the health of residents living in urban spaces like Rancho Cordova continues to decline due to lack of access to healthy, locally-produced food, and health education. Soil Born Farms stepped-in to turn urban residents into farmers, teach good nutrition, and creatively leverage community resources.
Soil Born Farms is a 55-acre historic community farm located in Rancho Cordova. This rare community asset provides a wonderfully diverse landscape which engages both youth and adults in hands-on activities that connect them to the natural world, healthy food, healthy eating, job and life skills, hard work, and service opportunities.
Vegetables from Soil Born fields get to consumers through local markets and restaurants, local food banks and the American River Ranch Farmstand. At the Ranch and other community sites, Soil Born runs programs that focus on promoting good health and providing learning opportunities for youth and adults to produce healthy food for themselves and for others.
Outcomes to date include:
2.) Mather Veterans Village: There’s No Place Like Home
Sacramento County, which includes Rancho Cordova, has the 10th highest number of homeless veterans among California counties. Even so, housing to support the unique needs of homeless and disabled veterans was virtually non-existent.
With this in mind, city staff began exploring the feasibility of creating a village dedicated to the care and housing of veterans. The project flourished into a partnership between four cross-sector collaborators: The City of Rancho Cordova, Mercy Housing California, Veterans Resource Centers of America, and Sacramento County. Many organizations collaborated to cobble together needed funding. In addition to the four proponents, state and federal agencies, private businesses, and nonprofits rallied as well.
After 10 years of roadblocks, red tape and funding challenges, Rancho Cordova’s Mather Veterans Village (MVV) now offers permanent supportive and transitional housing for more than 150 homeless and disabled veterans. This new, three-story development with 44 one-bedroom and 6 two-bedroom homes exceeds California’s energy and water usage standards by incorporating drought-tolerant landscaping, drip irrigation by onsite gray water, and solar panels that power both the hot water system and electricity.
Since the grand opening, the community has stepped forward in a variety of ways. Whisker Warriors volunteers collect pet food and deliver it to veterans who are comforted by a dog or cat companion. Leadership Rancho Cordova volunteers erected patriotic bike racks for use by residents. Local artists have enhanced the grounds with inspiring mosaics and murals, and faith leaders make themselves available for counsel and support.
3.) Mentors at Cordova High (MACH): The Healing Power of Love
Cordova High School (CHS) has a 1,700-student melting pot, with 61% minority students and more than two-thirds of the students being poor. US News and World Report paints a discouraging picture—a school whose college readiness rating is 1.7 of 100.
Conrade Mayer ran the “In House Suspension” program at CHS, and after a few years of daily contact with the trouble-makers and troubled, he discovered these students were not just causing problems in the classroom, they had been discarded by pretty much everybody.
He rounded up a group of his fellow CHS alumni, and with the help of his wife, began an informal mentoring program. Trading youth participation for tangible benefits—like otherwise unaffordable tickets to the prom or a yearbook—Mayer began showing up at community events and work days with a small army of previously written-off students. Slowly, the crew began to make a name for themselves around town as they provided muscle at neighborhood cleanups, helped tear out unsightly chain link fences, planted trees, and set-up tents and tables at community events.
Mentors at Cordova High (MACH) was soon formed into a 501c3 nonprofit. With help from the school district and the city, grant funding was made available to tackle problems of school attendance and grade improvement. Results have been staggering—a 41% increase in MACH participants’ overall GPA, a decrease in truancy levels, and over 1,200 hours of community service logged.