Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association improves neighborhood safety and strengthens community

Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association (GWNA) regularly hosts neighborhood clean-up events
Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association (GWNA) regularly hosts neighborhood clean-up events

For 30 years, members of the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association (GWNA) have worked to protect and enhance their San José neighborhood.

In 1992, the group got its start in community activism by working together to stop a city redevelopment plan opposed by residents. Since then, GWNA has worked with the San José Police Department to reduce crime. With support from an annual grant of $5,000 from the City of San Jose’s BeautifySJ Grant Program, the group also hosts community-building events as an opportunity for neighbors to connect, such as a celebration for “National Night Out” in August, with food and dance groups.

Now the association’s annual budget has doubled, thanks to a $5,000 Neighborhoods: Community Action Grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation. SVCF’s Neighborhoods grants prioritize resident-driven organizations that build community and organize action in specific neighborhoods in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

“We’re trying to identify and support groups organized by neighbors and residents at the local level that are fully run by volunteers, and might not have a typical nonprofit structure,” said Mauricio Palma, director of community-building for SVCF.

The Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association fits the bill.

Rosalinda Aguilar, executive board member and past president, is “passionate about her community,” Palma said. “She grew up in the neighborhood, lives in the house where she was raised, and is working with others to make sure that the youth in the community have the resources needed to nurture a sense of belonging as they face the pressures of gentrification.”

GWNA hosts a food distribution event
GWNA hosts a food distribution event

Improving neighborhood safety

One of the group’s achievements has been improving the cooperation between residents and the police.

When Aguilar joined the organization in 2015, prostitution was a significant concern in the neighborhood, which is located between Interstate 280, South First Street and Route 87 in San José.

“It was something that our children should not be seeing,” Aguilar said. “That was the beginning of joining forces with our police department in stopping that activity.”

Residents organized night walks on Fridays, “showing that we were watching, and we knew what was going on, hoping it would stop,” Aguilar said. They also organized a larger community march that drew hundreds of participants and local elected officials. “We spoke about the dangers of human trafficking, the importance of having this activity go away, and how it was affecting family life here in our neighborhood.”

Joining forces with the police department required building trust between the residents and the police.

“We were one of those communities that was known for not reporting things,” Aguilar said. “It got to the point where some residents felt that it doesn’t work to report, so why do it?”

One of the first challenges in turning that situation around: “teaching a big core of Spanish-speaking residents who don’t have confidence in calling law enforcement to ask for help,” Aguilar said.

Police captains began to attend neighborhood association meetings, introducing themselves and offering their contact information. “When people sent a concern, they actually responded,” Aguilar said. Today, the relationship between the residents and the San José Police Department is positive — “a big shift from what it was 10 years ago,” she said.

GWNA’s annual Elections and Recognitions convening
GWNA’s annual Elections and Recognitions convening

Neighborhood celebrations and beautification

In addition to helping prevent crime and connecting residents, the association sponsors monthly neighborhood clean-ups. GWNA will also use some of the BeautifySJ funds to plant trees.

Although the SVCF grant is for general operating support, Aguilar said the group has a couple of projects in mind. One is to replicate a mural that is on the side of a building on the corner of First and Oak Streets. It was created several years ago by a local artist to deter graffiti, but the building has a new owner who wants to replace it.

The association recently successfully advocated for the city to remove the Willow Street business district, called Calle Willow, from a redevelopment plan that would have encouraged residential development on the site of a number of small businesses that serve the Spanish-speaking community, Aguilar said. “It would have erased a small cultural business district that put us on the map in San Jose.” This is a great win for the community.

The group is also working with a partner organization to offer a children’s program in the summer.

“We support the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association because its leaders and their work demonstrate elements that are at the core of our community-building efforts: individual social capital, community belongingness and social cohesion,” Palma said. “Rosalinda and her neighbors have a shared identity rooted in the place they call home. They have shaped and shared many stories that bring them together and inspire their community action.”