Thursday, June 28, 2012

Community catalysts connecting for good

By Kimberly Fong
Dina Weinstein, a Parent Leadership Training Institute graduate, remembers a time during her childhood when majority of kids from her Massachusetts neighborhood walked or biked to school. Fast forward to Miami-Dade County in 2012 where the roads are heavily trafficked with cars and the streets are less pedestrian-friendly. Florida has one of the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities due to children being hit by cars. Most parents cite safety issues as one of the primary reasons they are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school. The desire to change this reality inspired Dina to initiate a Bike and Walk to School Day that advocates alternative transportation for children going to and from school as her final project for PLTI.

"I didn't like the expectation put on parents to drive their kids everywhere," Dina said. The valet style pick up and drop off system at her children's school felt very "isolating" in comparison to her experience interacting with neighbors who were also walking their children to school. Dina started the Bike and Walk to School Day at her children's school, Temple Beth Am Day School. The event had a great turn out and since then Temple Beth Am has hosted three more Bike and Walk to School Days centered on the themes of safety, active lifestyle--inspired by Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program--and Birthday of the Trees, a Jewish celebration of nature. Although these events have been successful, Dina is eager to transform the Bike and School Days beyond one-day celebrations into an ongoing movement.

Dina has encountered a number of issues in building this movement. Parent advocates are challenged by having to navigate through Miami's multiple levels of power, bouncing back and forth, and not being sure whom they should speak to. In addition, the roads in Miami belong to 35 governments--municipalities, counties, state or federal--which amplifies the obstacles and idiosyncrasies. Bike lanes, pedestrian cross walks, road crossing martials, and reduced speed limits are a few of the incentives needed for families to bike or walk to school.

Navigating systems and networking to create change are two of the skills PLTI participants build throughout the 22-week program. Dina graduated from the program in 2009 and has continued to fight for bike and pedestrian safety. She recently won a grant in collaboration with the Green Mobility Network to implement a safe routes to school program. We are so proud of Dina and know she is well on her way to making serious change happen in Miami!