Voces del Canal: A Campus and Community Partnership

Dominican’s service-learning program joined forces with local residents and non-profit organizations to support a community-driven participatory action research project designed to better understand the needs and interests of residents living in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood and empower residents to take a proactive role in strengthening their community.

voces.de.canal.englishThe report, titled “Building Safe Communities through Strong Partnerships in the Canal,” is collaboration between Dominican, Canal Alliance, DataCenter, and Voces Del Canal, a coalition of resident leaders from the Canal neighborhood. The residents recently presented their research findings, priority recommendations, and strategies for promoting community development and revitalization during a meeting with local agencies and officials at Dominican.

"We are working hard but it’s difficult to get the better paying jobs because of our limited English or we don’t have the right experience." - Canal Resident

The research project began about two years ago when Julia van der Ryn, director of Dominican Service-Learning Program, and Jennifer Lucko, an assistant professor of Education, received funding from Dominican’s Strategic Initiative Grant program to examine how the University could contribute to community revitalization in the Canal neighborhood. "In dialogue with our partners in the Canal, we identified the need for a more holistic approach to our work; one that is driven by residents, especially those whose voices are rarely heard,” van der Ryn said. “Our goal as an institution is to create partnerships that provide sustainable and valuable community-engaged educational experiences and make meaningful contributions to the canal community and further equity in Marin." Residents affirmed their role as authentic, local experts and gave power to the lived experiences of community residents. The Canal Alliance, DataCenter, Dominican University, and a network of community organizations in the Canal joined forces in this project.

Despite all of the challenges that we are facing in the Canal, there are still real people who are concerned and want to make a change. - Jose, Canal Resident

DataCenter led a dedicated team of 13 resident leaders in training  workshops so the residents could design and implement their own  community survey project. Together, they conducted a total of 678 survey interviews documenting the residents; personal stories, opinions, and visions for a healthier Canal.

Through this community-led project, Canal residents identified public safety as the most immediate issue preventing the community from thriving. They understand that public safety is correlated with strong communities and social equality. Canal residents offer recommendations to improve safety in the Canal: better quality education and after-school programming, more parent resources, and improved coordination and delivery of family services. To achieve community transformation, residents are calling for more meaningful community engagement and collaboration with local institutions and agencies.

Residents want to work in partnership with key decision-makers and actively participate in the development of community-determined priorities and solutions. They also seek to strengthen community cohesion within the Canal, empowering families to take a proactive role, becoming community social change agents. Julia van der Ryn says, "Our hope is that we as a campus, in conjunction with key community leaders and stakeholders, will come together to take action steps in response to the residents' findings and recommendations."