When two or more are gathered, anything is possible. That seems to be a primary principle fueling the efforts of Alianza Coachella Valley.

The dynamic non-profit organization in the Eastern Coachella Valley strives to support resident leaders jazzed about improving their community. It is a rarity in that it rose from a local grassroots effort to attract and unite residents eager to lead efforts that create impactful and lasting change.

“Alianza has different avenues to grow as an organization based on where the community wants to grow,” explains senior director Sahara Daniela Huazano. “It’s unique in that sense and we’re looking forward to expanding even more.”

The organization focuses on the city of Coachella and various unincorporated communities nearby—Mecca, Thermal, Oasis, and North Shore near the Salton Sea. Like most effective change agents, it keeps many creative plates spinning. 

Previously known as Building Healthy Communities, Huazano points out that leadership development is key but that there’s an even deeper component to the work they offer: recognizing that healthy and economically sustaining regions thrive when their populations are actively represented in various decisions that impact the lives of residents. 

It’s important that we recognize the strengths of our area,” she adds.

Creating opportunities, which make residents the active players involved in shaping policies and public funding priorities, stands out here, and Huazano is quick to note that the predominantly Latino communities the organization serves are culturally rich yet often experience economic hardships. 

A variety of unique programs and initiatives aim to balance that out. These involved work in civic engagement, community justice, environmental justice, and a Youth Organizing Council. Recent milestones include working with school district leaders, first with Bobby Duke Middle School in Coachella, where it introduced a pilot program that revolved around restorative justice. It expanded to four middle schools in the region, allowing educators vital disciplinary tools that kept students invested in the classroom. 

Improving infrastructure is another noteworthy achievement. Alianza lobbied for the first public bus route serving North Shore, which offered its residents a viable pathway to the region’s jobs, health care, and shopping. Paved roads in low-income areas suddenly became a reality, too.

As a recent grantee of the CIELO Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation, Alianza was able to fuel an empowering event in the fall of 2023, which was held at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club in Salton Sea.

It was a wonderful day for youth to learn about different leadership skills and continue understanding not only the issues of the community but also about coming up with creative solutions and working in collaboration,” Huazano shares.

The grant was written by Evelia Cabrera, a college student, with the help of Karina Andalon, a UC alumnus.

“It was the first time [a grant] came from one of our interim college students, who was formerly one of our high school youth and on the organizing council,” Huazano adds. “So, you can see there’s a trail of leadership because they wrote the grant and are now on staff. We want to offer a holistic way of thinking about leadership development.”

The outing marked yet another achievement for Alianza, who recognized the importance of young community leaders having the opportunity to be deeply involved in all aspects of the event—from creating event budgets, implementing educational points, and interacting with attendees. 

It’s a holistic way of thinking about leadership development,’ Huazano says. “Youth are often not seen as receivers, but not always as the ones who contribute. So, this is unique.”

Restorative justice training was also offered at the event to illuminate safer practices with schools and the community.

“Ultimately, it was a successful event,” Huazano notes. “Adults were there to support them and supervise anything that they needed from the beginning to the actual day of the event. But everything was led by them.”

Looking ahead, Alianza will hold its sight on important matters affecting Eastern Coachella Valley. Those include: keeping residents connected to affordable health services; overseeing care for parks, paved roads, and public transportation in marginalized communities; improving local community representation on the region’s water district board; and enhancing learning environments in local schools. 

Learn more about Alianza Coachella Valley at alianzacv.org.

This story originally appeared in the Desert Sun January 2024. 

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