SHE’s History of Community Development

SHE’s History of Community Development

Posted on April 1, 2024

To commemorate SHE’s 60th Anniversary, we are continuing our historical series highlighting the journey we’ve been on as an organization since 1965. While our roots were firmly planted in self-help housing for low-income farmworkers, the evolving needs of rural communities in the 1970s led us to expand our focus. In working with communities, it became apparent to SHE that many families lacked access to clean drinking water and adequate sewer. SHE began addressing rural community water and sewer needs in 1974, which allows for comprehensive approaches to address the basic and essential needs of rural communities.

In the early 1970s, although various SHE staff members were involved in “community development” activities outside of the organization, SHE had not formally become a provider of com­munity development services until 1974. Early in 1975, the Board approved a contract with the National Demonstration Water Project. Although the initial contract was small, supporting one staff member, this was the beginning of SHE’s massive effort to improve the unsafe water and wastewater systems seemingly indigenous to the rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley. The initial six community projects with which SHE worked were quickly expanded to over 90 water and wastewater projects in 60 locations. This effort received a significant boost in 1976 when SHE received $250,000 from the Community Services Administration to be used for seed money by com­munities in the initial stages of improving their water and sewer systems.

America’s water supply became recognized as the crisis of the 1980s, and in no location was the concern greater than in the San Joaquin Valley. Inadequate water systems and unsafe drinking and well water deeply affected rural residents and farm workers. Rapid population growth and intensive agricultural activities strained existing infrastructure, leading to insufficient water treatment and distribution networks. Many rural communities, particularly those inhabited by farm workers, faced disproportionate risks and exacerbated their vulnerability to water-related health hazards. The reliance on groundwater extraction, often without sustainable management practices, further depletes aquifers and contaminated wells with agricultural pollutants, posing significant health risks to those relying on them for drinking water. Decades of neglect and underinvestment in infrastructure perpetuated this cycle of water insecurity and underscored the need for SHE’s involvement to help safeguard the well-being of rural residents.

“Being without water is very stressful because every time the community’s pump was out, we didn’t know how long we were going to be without water. The tests for our new pipeline came back clear and our water is safe to drink. I can cook and have a glass of water.” ~ Lucy Hernandez, President of the West Goshen Mutual Water Company

Self-Help Enterprises emerged as pioneers in community development during this period, actively addressing the challenges faced by rural residents in accessing safe drinking water and sewer services in the Central Valley. Today, the vital services SHE initiated remain essential, reflecting ongoing needs for equitable access to safe water and sanitation infrastructure in rural areas across the valley. Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter to learn about SHE’s current Community Development services.

Recent Comments