[L.A. Watts Times]

A national program called the “BUILD Health Challenge”, recently announced in Washington, DC that a $75,000 grant has been awarded to a South LA partnership to develop an action plan that will expand and extend innovative community health and youth de­velopment initiatives underway.  The partnership includes the National Health Foundation (NHF), the project lead, along with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), and California Hospital Medical Center (CHMC). Their submission, entitled, “Youth-Driven Healthy South Los Angeles”, was the only planning grant awardee from California in a competition that received hundreds of applications from across the country.  It was also unique among the 18 national planning and implementation grant awardees in the extent to which it included active youth involvement in the community focused partnership.

The BUILD Health Challenge awards recognize projects with approaches that are bold, upstream, integrated, local, and data-driven, and which advance partnerships between local non-profit organizations, hospital and health systems, and health departments to improve the health in low-income urban neighborhoods.  The BUILD program was founded by and is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kresge Foundation, the de Beaumont Foundation, The Advisory Board Company, and the Colorado Health Foundation.

“We are honored that our ongoing work in South LA was recognized and that we now have additional resources to continue achieving greater good,” said Kelly Bruno, president and CEO of NHF.  “We need to decrease the health disparities in the region.  Programs like this allow us to remove the barriers this community faces to healthy eating and physical activity.”

Bruno added, “The partnership’s goal under this grant is to develop a community-driven action plan for the South Central and Central Alameda neighborhoods that maps out upstream solutions to tackling key health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

NHF has being working for many years to improve the health of the underserved in the region, most recently through the countywide Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention (NEOP) program administered through LACDPH.  One of the NEOP grants provides funds for a NHF initiative at Jefferson High School where students develop community health projects through an after-school “Health Academy” program.

“Through our partnership with NHF, youth are learning how to positively impact the environment in which they live to create healthier neighborhoods that they can thrive in,” said Jeffrey D. Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, interim health officer of LACDPH.  “For example, at Jefferson High, students are working with a local corner store to stock more fresh fruits and vegetables, secured private and public donations for an on-campus drinking water ‘hydration station,’ and are making policy recommendations for modifying the neighborhood streetscape to create more greenspace for outdoor activities.  The BUILD grant will allow NHF to continue to engage youth to invest in their potential to create more healthy changes where they live, go to school, and play.”

This includes Jefferson High School students like Jeanette Pastrana, who volunteered for two years at the Health Academy.  She, like many of her fellow team members, developed greater personal confidence and professional and team-building skills.  “We have a passion to make our community better,” said Pastrana.  “It seems to be rubbing off on those around us.  For example, my mom has made changes on what meals she prepares for us, and many of our friends have also become more health conscious.  In a way, we are mini ambassadors for change in our neighborhoods.  Each term will bring in a new group of mini ambassadors eager to contribute to their community, their home.  In various ways, the program has self-sustaining aspects.”  Pastrana will be a freshman at UC Berkeley starting in the fall.

“The BUILD Health Challenge grant is energizing,” said NHF head Bruno.  “We welcome the infusion of additional resources like this to keep the momentum going.  Collectively, we will develop an action plan that hopefully can later be implemented to benefit the community, serve as a model, and be replicated elsewhere across the nation.”