SDOP advocates for youth, health care collaboration

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series on community organizations that are funded by The California Endowment as part of its Building Healthy Communities initiative.

The San Diego Organizing Project (SDOP), based in City Heights, has been seeking to raise the voices of residents in powerful ways for more than 30 years. SDOP started in 1979 and is part of a national network of faith-based organizations, which has 50 groups working in 17 states.

SDOP administers two major youth and health-related initiatives funded by The California Endowment, as part of the endowment’s Building Healthy Communities program.

One initiative is creating a youth development office to help government agencies coordinate and share resources and the other is establishing a model health care project that addresses safety-net populations. Both initiatives are being coordinated through the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (Mid-City CAN).

SDOP is conducting research through community gatherings and interviews in an effort to “make sure that the voice and experience of people is heard in powerful ways,” Jose Arenas, SDOP’s executive director, said.

The goal of the health care work is to increase access for at-risk groups, such as children and Medicaid recipients, through partnerships with community health centers.

“We’ve been doing a ton of work trying to figure out what the local health care delivery system is capable of,” Arenas said.

But that is just the first step. “If you do create something new, could we imagine proposing something – a delivery system – that puts the voice and experience of patients first, which is kind of radical?” he said.

SDOP is also pushing to open a youth development office that connects organizations that affect the lives of young people; groups such as the San Diego Unified School District, health and human services organizations, law enforcement, libraries, and parks and recreation. The idea for a youth office stemmed from a spike in violence about four years ago.

“Most of our services are focused on trying to intervene, but youth development would be focused on the whole kid, to create opportunities for youth and families,” Arenas said. “It’s a larger focus on prevention.”

The youth and health care initiatives have goals that go beyond the individuals they help. “The development of youth, ultimately, we believe leads to the development of community, of place,” he said. “And the whole idea behind a place-based initiative [like Building Healthy Communities] is that place matters.”

Adam Ward is the Mid-City CAN staff writer and a former San Diego Union-Tribune editor. Adam has lived in San Diego for nearly a decade and is the father of a young son. Contact him at or (619) 283-9624 ext. 210.