Le Tanya Williams
What do you get when you recruit new people to join your coalition and to take an interest in their community? You get renewed energy, fresh ideas, and new connections to community members. You get community organizers like Le Tanya Williams in the City of Chester. Over five years ago, Eat Smart Move More Chester County received a grant from the University of South Carolina to improve the local food system. Le Tanya played a key role in connecting the coalition to the community and starting something new for many community members – The Organic Helpers and grassroots advocacy.
The Organic Helpers are a group of community members who fight for change in the local food system while creating social change within the Chester community. They were heavily involved in the USC Grant through the creation of community gardens, partnering with local farmers, learning how to prepare healthier foods, and even getting youth involved in the healthier lifestyle movement. Since the grant ended, the Organic Helpers still focus on creating a food system where all future generations experience and value fresh, local, and organic foods.
“Having fast foods on almost every corner with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables is not good,” says Le Tanya. “Going back to growing your own vegetables and learning to prepare it will cut down on health issues, especially obesity, which is a high population in Chester.”
Knowing that safe physical activity is also key to improving community health, Le Tanya saw the importance of safe routes to school and safe conditions to be physically active. She got involved with a walkability assessment that uncovered dangerous conditions like inaccessible sidewalks due to overgrown trees and uneven payments, packs of dogs, unlit areas, and many more issues that make walking, bicycling, and even wheelchair accessibility unsafe and nearly impossible.
“The key was involving people from the various Districts in the city to participate in the assessment. City Council, gatekeepers within the community, and other volunteers participated. By bringing awareness to dangerous conditions, the City Council made improvements through sidewalk repairs and maintenance. Chester County Council agreed to install sidewalks in front of Chester High School and along the main highway, giving students the ability to walk to a main area of the city. New crosswalks were installed in various areas and old crosswalks received new paint.”
Another equally important group of citizens are youth. Chester youth are learning to become community leaders by getting involved in the creation and implementation of community surveys, participating in cooking demonstrations, and learning how to choose healthy options at convenience stores through shopping trips.
Community leaders in Chester, like Le Tanya, saw the opportunity to keep the USC Grant momentum going, and to build upon the successes they experienced. It all started with a community garden and encouraging community members to grow their own food and to advocate for healthy initiatives. Five years later, she is still seeing community engagement going strong.
“Community members are now participating in their local government, holding them accountable for the decisions local government makes and still growing their own food. At first, it was difficult meeting with the community, but once they saw that we were going to stick together, more and more started to come on board.”
So, what’s the next step for this community leader? She’s running for public office because she desires to be the change she wants to see in her community.