In Greenfield, advocating for a small piece of sidewalk makes a big difference

September 24, 2018 /

By Barbara Perez

Ever since I could remember, I always believed that the 30-foot-long missing piece of sidewalk on Monitor Street near Ollivier Middle School would forever remain a patch of dirt.

It wasn’t until I became a high school student that I finally realized this was a serious problem. Located at the intersection of a middle school, elementary school and high school, this missing essential piece of infrastructure had been endangering pedestrian safety for years.

Despite acknowledging this, I never thought I could do anything to fix it. I was just a shy freshman at Golden Valley High School. What adult, let alone a county supervisor or council member, would listen to me? About a year later, California Walks, a statewide pedestrian advocacy group, gave me the chance to write about this missing sidewalk.

After doing some advocacy work with multiple community organizations, I had gained the courage to speak about the issues regarding this road.

I authored a report that highlighted that a dirt lot nearby kicked up dust that affected passersby with asthma and other respiratory issues, and that the dirt walkway would flood in the rain, forcing students to walk in the street to keep from getting soggy.

Local community organizer Gustavo Aguirre took notice. With his help, my report made it onto the desk of county and city representatives. To my surprise, their response was immediate and decisive: they wanted to help.

My mother, Aguirre and I toured Assistant City Manager Christopher Gary around the area in April. We showed him the missing sidewalk and how students were affected by it.

We asked him for grant funding to complete the sidewalk. Council member Chris Parlier did us one better — he called on the city to pour the concrete and finish the sidewalk before the school year began — no grants required.

Throughout this advocacy journey, I learned that it was important to project my voice on problems that affected my community. Getting this sidewalk finished taught me that youth involvement can make a difference.

I want others to know that young people like me can change their neighborhoods if they put the effort and work together with adults. It is definitely possible to work with adults without the fear of being pushed away.

Age difference should not be an obstacle in working together to complete something greater together, and contributing on this missing sidewalk proves that.

My fellow youth should not be afraid to speak up. We can change things that we never thought imaginable through the power of advocacy.

Barbara Perez is a 17-year-old student at Golden Valley High School and is a member of the Greenfield Walking Group.