June 15 2018

Since 2014, four non-profit organizations in the Central California and Center for Regional Change at University of California, Davis have come together to create a healthy collaborative-based strategic plan to address the need to build youth power, civic engagement and cultural resiliency in their communities. Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ), Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA), Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, Faith in the Valley in Merced, and University of California, Davis are at the core of building power through healing and trauma-informed cultural organizing across the Central Valley.

Benito Juarez Celebration (Fresno) Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño

One Neighborhoods Owning Power Action and Leadership (NOPAL) Collective focus is to change the narrative about communities of color from being deficit-based to an asset-based point of view. NOPAL Fellows are focused on developing local projects that invest in their communities. They work with ordinary people in their neighborhoods to create extraordinary changes to promote a better quality of living. Collective members provide Fellows with coaching, technical assistance and training to support their personal and professional development and project work. Our work is now supported by The California Endowment, Sierra Health Foundation and Latino Community Foundation. It was launched with early support from the Center for Collaborative Research for An Equitable California (University of California).

NOPAL Encuentro (April 2018) with Incoming Fellows, Alumni, supporters, and NOPAL Steering Committee members (Nancy Erbstein, Samuel Nunez, John Pineda, Leoncio Vasquez Santos, Tsia Xiong)

This past April, our Executive Steering Committee and funders welcomed our first NOPAL fellowship graduates and our incoming NOPAL fellows for a ceremony to reflect on past success and goal development. In this graduation ceremony, the fellows presented about their projects they were working on while in the NOPAL fellowship. While some of the fellows’ work focused on bringing Oaxaqueño community voices into decision-making in the Fresno and Madera area through registering voters in this indigenous Mexican community and doing research on families’ experience in locals schools, others worked to create a community garden and plant 330 trees in honor of victims of homicides in South Stockton. Other fellows worked on the Y-Vote initiative, a statewide youth coalition of twenty organizations focused on recruiting high school student youth voters for the upcoming elections.  In addition, other fellows were involved in the planning process of Take It Outside California, an event in Salinas in partnership with Big Sur Land Trust. This event is a statewide initiative to simultaneously connect all Californians to enjoy outdoor green spaces and parks. NOPAL Fellows planned a skate jam competition for the local skaters in Salinas, while recruiting voters for the next elections.

Re-Leaf project Fathers and Families of San Joaquin/UC Davis partnership (community garden)

Here’s some background on some of our NOPAL Fellows’ experiences in their own words.

Evely Gomez

I served as a Fellow for Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño. We focused on the empowerment of youth (young adults, middle and high school students) by actively interacting and holding conversations with them. We did this by holding focus groups to discuss educational disparities and experiences as indigenous people. As well as helping undocumented young adults register for healthcare despite their legal status. And lastly, we initiated a youth-led group in which our community’s youth can freely express themselves and develop community engagement skills.

Serving as a fellow was truly a one of a kind opportunity. I was able to reach out to members of my community that I felt I had no idea of how to collaborate with. There was a responsibility to bring back the resources given to me by the UC Davis faculty and NOPAL staff. Having the chance to work with both, community and UC Davis, has served a lifelong learning tool. Even though I am no longer a fellow, I know that I will remain as a bridge between UC Davis and my community.

I have learned many things from the NOPAL fellowship, so I am confident that they have influenced how I interact with others and my perspective on community work. Where to start?! The people that I had the opportunity to work along are amazing. The fellows from other organizations, NOPAL staff, and UC Davis faculty showed a genuine interest in giving power to the communities. Also, they are people who have dedicated their careers to serve and research communities to further inform groups that have historically been oppressed by a system in which we live in. This motivates me to move forward and remain involved.



Dario Soto

In my NOPAL fellowship, my role was to facilitate Joven Noble curriculum for four different youth cohorts at local high schools. Joven Noble is an indigenous-based healing and trauma-informed evidence-based curriculum.  In these circles our youth learn mental, emotional, and spiritual practices that sustain balance across race and ethnicity. I was also involved in the strategic planning for MILPA Youth Equity Team Department.

My experience with the partnership with UC Davis was really authentic and genuine. Prior to working with UC Davis faculty I hadn’t been in such a huge institution and was intimidated. After I was made to feel welcomed by UC Davis faculty and recognized that I was important in this healthy collaboration I felt like I mattered.

One takeaway from the NOPAL fellowship was having access to the community based Youth Participatory Action Research training at UC Davis. This included a paid fellowship that promoted and supported the practice of trauma and healing. These trainings and financial support really helped me provide for myself, family, and daughter.


Louis Gutierrez

My NOPAL project consisted of organizing an event called TAKE IT OUTSIDE California (TIO). TIO is an event that happens once a year simultaneously all across CA focused on residents getting to enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities while engaging the community residents. I organized and oversaw the Skate Jam. My role was to collaborate with other organizations, set up meetings, distribute community flyers, solicit local business-owners for support, and recruited volunteers from the local neighborhood.  During one of my NOPAL trainings at UC Davis, I learned public speaking skills (elevator pitch) that I used for the engagement process for TIO event.

My experience as a NOPAL fellow with the community and UC Davis was very enlightening and humbling. I never thought I would work so closely with the wonderful people such as Alivia, Nancy, Brandon, and George. I had the opportunity to learn from them and bring my knowledge back home where it is most needed.  I was really comfortable in the environment I was in, and enjoyed visiting UC Davis campus and the surrounding area. It’s inspiring to be in such an Institution where so many educated people attend and I would like to attend, myself.

I feel like the biggest takeaway for me was coming back home from incarceration and working with my community in local efforts to decrease the social vulnerability of East Salinas.  From the NOPAL Fellowship, I feel like I was provided practical skills of “cultural humility” that were transferable to my community. With the grass roots approach and skills I learned, having a deep connection to my community has been a gift and has strengthened my family.


Edgar Ibarra

My role for the NOPAL Fellowship project was to partner in the planning processes of Take It Outside (T.I.O) skate jam event that Louis Gutierrez and I put together. My role was one of supporting this event by coordinating meetings, handing out surveys, prizes, and interacting with youth. This included building on the Y-Vote statewide coalition to recruit youth voters for the next elections.

My experience with the U.C. and the community was very different because this was my first time engaging with UC Davis faculty and students in this type of level or any level at that. However, it turned out to be a great experience and I hope it continues because I saw the potential for my own personal development. I plan on applying for UC Davis in a year so I can change the narrative about low income and system-impacted people are viewed as idle versus educated.

There are many takeaways that I think are worth mentioning, but if I had to narrow it down it is the cooperation and respect that is displayed by all the NOPAL team, especially when it boils down to continue to building and sustaining movement within the movement.


Luis Angel

My project with NOPAL is to support the Releaf project. Our organization Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ) received a grant to plant 330 trees in South Stockton to produce better air quality and civic engagement. We called this work “green-lining the hood.“ We worked in partnership with Landscape Architect Design students at UC Davis. Also, with that, we started a community garden, in which we planted trees in honor of those who has passed away due to gun violence. Our “Seeding Hope / Healing Roots” project was centered on giving workshops for South Stockton residents and receiving input from them as to how they can make our community more vibrant.

It was dope!! It was my first time working with my community and the UC Davis NOPAL team. First, the UC Davis staff made me feel extremely welcomed. Professor Simpson and her students were very supportive of our community project and helped get the Releaf project off the ground. The best part of this partnership was that we built friendships and trust with the students.

NOPAL is teaching me about my culture and building me in a professional way. Keep in mind I have only been out for 5 months, and my first time at a university was at  a training for NOPAL at UC Davis. This experience motivated me to go back to school and continue my higher education.



Tyreece Sherrill

My project involved the collaboration with the UC Davis Landscape Design & Architecture 141 class to host a community garden workshop and event. We had seven weeks to create a public engagement plan, outreach, brainstorm, and establish the agenda. The project was a success as nine residents from the community attended the workshop, and we were able to get the local newspaper to cover our story.

The experience working with UC Davis was great. Building strong productive relationships with people is always great. We were able to accomplish the goal. It also felt as if we were a family. As if we’ve known each other forever.

New relationships and connections with people are always a blessing. However the family-oriented fellowship such as NOPAL really defines what it means to be a family. All separately doing the same work, but when we all come together it’s as if we never missed a day. These relationships are sacred and important. We work as a squad, not as an individual.



Jose Ayala

I am an intern at Faith in the Valley-Merced and I worked alongside NOPAL Fellow Jesse Villegas on his projects that focused on the youth in the local Merced area. I contributed ideas, and helped Jesse with events in order to bring young people together to talk about issues affecting them.

I had a very impactful experience with the community that I worked with while working alongside Jesse Villegas. I became more aware of the problems that community-members were facing such as healthcare and ICE in the community. They have used their voice, and I have felt empowered by their passion for the well-being of others. I have only begun my work with NOPAL, but attending the workshop in Salinas has shown me that the NOPAL Fellowship, along with UC Davis, offers an open and welcoming space.

One thing I want people to know about NOPAL, is that as someone who attended a meeting, my initial thoughts were that this program offers the tools to build leaders and promotes teamwork. It offers an open space to freely express one-self. It is a great opportunity to meet and work with people from different backgrounds.

Jesse Villegas

In the NOPAL Fellowship program I worked with our local youth offering healing circles and information services of different subjects. These subjects included peer pressure, domestic violence, immigration issues, and community involvement.  In our healing circles we focused on uplifting the teachings of community building, transformation, and healing. Since this was my first time doing this work, I thought the process was difficult to recruit youth from my neighborhood.

In Merced, the community is very disconnected, however I believe there is hope and that each new person reached is another person informed and empowered. One thing I want people to know is the work we do isn’t easy. However, when we see results it makes all the hard work worth it. I feel as if this is not a nine to five job but working after hours as well. I want people to know this partnership was beneficial to my professional development and higher education. I encourage community to get involved with academic institutions, but with a bottom-up approach.





Jesse Ornelas

I attended most meetings and convening’ as well as built a youth base at a time that it was very difficult to do. Youth and community organizing in Merced went through a rough time and a long transition. I wish circumstances were different so I could still be “hands on” with NOPAL.

I love my barrio and the people in it. I could leave if I really wanted to but I am choosing to stay and cultivate relationships. My experience with the UC Davis partnership was one of reciprocal respect. They invested in me with their knowledge, and that has proven to be useful in the work I am doing now.

The NOPAL project is set up in a way that is inclusive to people of all backgrounds. It has formerly incarcerated folks and academics collaborating in the same space. THE ONLY REQUIREMENT IS TO HAVE LOVE FOR THE COMMUNITY.

Not pictured:  Estela Hernandez and Virgilio Vega Lopez are also N.O.P.A.L. Fellows with Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO).

Comments are closed.