What is your idea of a supportive environment? What do you need in order to feel acceptance and support? On the Verge, a leadership organization, government agencies and citizens of Santa Rosa have come together to address these questions and build a space for the Latino community as a way to encourage mental wellness and support. According to the 2017 Census Bureau, about 31% of the population in Santa Rosa are Hispanic or Latino. Leaders within Santa Rosa have taken the initiative to support the Latino community by envisioning La Plaza. Chela, a current SSU masters student studying Sociology explained the focus of this project, "we want to make this a space for mental health but through our culture, specifically." Because this idea is community-based, an event was hosted at Lawrence Cook Middle School that gave people the opportunity to contribute their mental health needs and thoughts for La Plaza.
The event was held in both Spanish and English and started off with an introduction and small activity. Attendees thought of one thing that helps them during a time of need and then wrote that need onto a paper heart. These paper hearts were then added to a wall so that everyone could see which I thought was great because it showed that everyone needs something different. It helped spark ideas of how La Plaza can be designed, leading to the main task of this event.
Everyone divided up into groups and were given a large piece of paper to design what their vision of La Plaza is. Bethany, an employee of Sonoma County Regional Parks, wanted La Plaza to be bright and happy, "We want a lot of windows and colors. Having a culturally centered garden would be great!" A lot of the other groups had the same vision as Bethany and drew with many colors and listed community-based activities such as the garden. I really enjoyed this part of the event because everyone was encouraged to dream big. It was fun seeing the potential of La Plaza.
The brain-storming ended with all of their ideas being pinned to the wall for everyone to see. The main point of La Plaza was reached as attendees seemed to leave with inspiration and excitement for what is to come. As someone who is Latina, I found this to be a huge step in creating a more inclusive environment for our community and addressing the importance of mental health. La Plaza will be opening this upcoming September!
If you would like to receive more information or contribute to La Plaza, please contact Javier Rivera at email@example.com.