Program Spotlight: A Community Leader's Reflections on the Safe Passage Program

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Señora Martha Raquel Garcia says this Mahatma Gandhi quote each morning as she prepares to begin her work as a Safe Passage base operator in Gage Park.

The Safe Passage Program is designed to provide safe routes for students traveling to and from Chicago Public Schools by posting community watchers around the schools during their morning and afternoon commutes. Señora Garcia has served as a community watcher since September of 2014 and has monitored the area around Eric Solorio Academy High School for almost her entire time with the program. Every school day, regardless of the weather, Señora Garcia is there to greet students with a smile and facilitate their smooth arrival and departure.

Señora Garcia has always been active in her community and embraces opportunities to promote positive change. Before she took on the role of community watcher, she served as Secretary on the Parent Advisory Committee at Solorio Academy, where her daughter attended high school. When she learned about the Safe Passage Program from a friend, she was eager to take on the role of community watcher and contribute to efforts to decrease violent incidents in her neighborhood.

Señora Garcia has noted a change since she first began working as a community watcher. While many students and parents were wary of the community watchers when the program first began, Señora Garcia and her colleagues have become trusted and respected members of the school community. In a recent survey where students were asked to identify adults in their community with whom they felt most comfortable reporting a problem or concern, Safe Passage workers were most commonly identified as trusted adults. Señora Garcia has also observed a decrease in vandalism, graffiti, and violent incidents over her time at Solorio Academy. In addition to these quantifiable impacts of the program, Señora Garcia reports that what is most gratifying about her work are the connections that she develops with the students and parents.

When Solorio Academy students approach their school each morning, Señora Garcia greets them with a warm smile and asks them how they are doing. For some students who do not receive that morning greeting from other adults in their life, this genuine interest and concern for their well-being has a profound impact. Students view Señora Garcia as a caring family member, and many confide in her about their struggles and ask her for advice. Parents also view her as a trusted confidant, asking her for information about available community resources and opportunities to get involved in school meetings and events.

Señora Garcia’s dedication to her community is unwavering. The Safe Passage Program is one of multiple ways in which she lives out her vision of the change that she hopes to see in the world. Señora Garcia is active in Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s advocacy campaigns and spoke with legislators in Springfield about the need for immigration reform. Señora Garcia’s story is a testament to the positive change that can occur when committed leaders live out their vision for community and societal transformation.

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