Community Heroes Create Bigger, Better Ways for Families to Play


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Kids need places to play to be healthy.

Physical activity is proven to help control weight, reduce risk of disease, strengthen muscles, and improve mental health.

But Latino families are more likely than white families to live in neighborhoods with no recreational facilities, or unsafe ones. This is according to recent research cited by Salud America!, a national Latino childhood obesity prevention network at UT Health San Antonio and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

That’s why we at SaludToday are spotlighting heroes who are creating play opportunities for Latino families!

Irma Rivera: First Park in the 92701

irma rivera
Irma Rivera

Irma Rivera saw a child nearly hit by a car while playing in an empty parking lot in park-poor Santa Ana, Calif (78% Latino).

She vowed to do fix the lack of safe active spaces.

She and other moms went to non-profit group Latino Health Access for help. The group stepped up to champion the cause.

Through teamwork and perseverance, the moms and the group got land and money to build the area’s first-ever public park and community center.

“We are making a positive impact on our kids to to physically active,” Rivera said. “Not to let them be cooped up, but provide them a green space, and be open and active. And learn the importance of a healthy lifestyle.”

Fany Mendez: Advocates Open Fitness Center in Latino Neighborhood

Westwood Unidos and Re:Vision promote family health in in the largely Latino neighborhood of Westwood in Denver (31.2% Latino).

fany mendez
Fany Mendez

For example, Fany Mendez taught fitness classes in their spare time for Westwood Unidos.

But her classes had to be set in schools, churches, and even bars.

Mendez and Westwood Unidos learned about a small building set to be torn down on land owned by Re:Vision. So they raised money to turn the building into a community center named La Casita.

La Casita now hosts educational and physical activity classes taught by Mendez and other local community members.

“We’ve already seen a growth in participation of about 60-70 percent” after opening, Mendez said. “[The community] can be preventive with their health, in conjunction with physical exercise.”

Pete Garcia: Free Fitness Classes in San Antonio Parks

pete garcia san antonio
Pete Garcia

Pete Garcia and a team at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department wanted to boost physical activity options in at-risk parts of San Antonio.

They got an idea: what about free fitness classes in parks?

In spring 2011, they used some grant money, created classes (like boot camp, yoga, and zumba), got volunteer class leaders, and rolled out a trial version of Fitness in the Park across the city.

It was so successful that they did it again in fall 2011.

But funding ran out in 2012.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department agreed to run Fitness in the Park in 2012. They also worked on a long-term sustainability plan.

The City Council approved, and the program has risen in popularity since.

Fitness in the Park is now year round. It grew from 2,502 classes and 23,424 participants in 2013 to 6,650 classes and 67,000 participants in 2016.

“To see how they’ve kind of made it year round, and really put a lot of effort into it, and created this huge program out of it—it’s satisfying,” Garcia said.

Explore More:

Fitness, Parks & Trails

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino neighborhoods lack recreational facilities compared to 38% of white neighborhoods.

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