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College Shows How to ‘Cultivate Health’ in a Diverse Neighborhood



Dr. Janet Houser wants her Regis University in Denver to "make a difference in the world" for better health. So they've started in their own backyard. Houser, the university's provost, is uniting community groups and developers to "cultivate health" in the neighborhood around the university—creating affordable housing and surrounding it with a health clinic, health education, and access to active spaces and healthy food. In just a few years, they want to give local families a place where they can equitably live, learn, work, and play. Is such a big transformation really possible? A Rising Latino Population Denver is one of the largest, fastest-growing cities in the country. It also has a rising Latino population, from 23% in 1990 to 31% in 2014. This changing ...

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Health Equity, a Bike Full of Groceries at a Time



Ricardo Rocha believes anyone can be a hero and improve local healthy food access. Even someone like him. Someone who grew up in a poor family that toiled to put food on the table in Mexico. Someone who immigrated to the deserts of New Mexico, and eventually Denver (31% Latino). Someone who was a struggling, undocumented high-school student. “I was not doing very well in high school. Someone there told me about the College Assistance Migrant Program," Rocha said. "That helped get me into [Metropolitan State University of Denver],” Rocha said. “I learned a lot about what it really meant to belong somewhere." Rocha wanted to do more than "belong somewhere." He wanted to make that somewhere better. So, when he noticed many people trying and failing to find healthy food ...

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Shirley Gonzales and Her Amazing Push to Revitalize Housing in Historic San Antonio



When San Antonio native Shirley Gonzales earned a business degree years ago, she immediately went to work to find new locations to expand her family's local business, Bill's Pawn Shop. Gonzales studied the city's historic, largely Latino Westside. She loved the area so much, she moved her family there. But she found it hard to navigate the city’s complex procedures for opening and expanding businesses—an experience that eventually led her to run for, and earn, a seat on the San Antonio City Council. Now Gonzales is pushing to revitalize business on the Westside and helping residents find better, more affordable homes to live in, too. “There is so much about this community that is good,” Gonzales said. “It has great history, great people living here, strong ...

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George Block: Opening the Gates for Families to Play at School Parks



George Block has fought for children for a long time. When Block saw disadvantaged kids not able to swim at local pools in the 1970s in San Antonio (63% Latino population), he fought for a new aquatic center that would provide free swim programs for them. When Block jogged through a low-income neighborhood and heard Mexican soccer games blaring from homes, but low youth soccer participation in the 1980s, he drove changes to enable more play. He even helped launch San Antonio Sports, a foundation that builds new sports facilities and spurs school facilities to open publicly. So…what did Block and his team do in 2016 when he saw many San Antonio families not using these facilities to capacity? He stepped up again and created a literal “gateway” to promote family use of ...

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Fred Cardenas: Improving Mental Healthcare for Kids in San Antonio



"I hear demons telling me to be bad." "I need my medicine to calm down." "Mom has a new boyfriend, but that’s okay cause dad has a new girlfriend." Fred Cardenas has heard these statements from kids ages 6 and younger who suffer mental health issues. Cardenas, who has spent 30 years in early childhood services in San Antonio (68% Latino), said overwhelmed parents and stressed teachers struggle to deal with these kids. Health workers too often look for a psychiatric diagnosis to medicate. He wanted to help parents, teachers, and health workers look more at the context and relationships experienced by the kids. So Cardenas helped build a program—Early Childhood Well Being (ECWB) at Family Service Association of San Antonio. ECWB intervenes early for kids ages 0-8 ...

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City Leader Rey Saldaña Helps At-Risk Latinos Learn to Swim



When he was a kid, Rey Saldaña couldn’t swim. His family couldn’t afford lessons. So Saldaña was a little scared as he and his second-grade classmates walked into a chlorine-smelling aquatic center to learn how to swim as part of a federally funded program in San Antonio, Texas (63.34% Latino). He overcame his fear and learned to swim, thanks to that “Learn to Swim” program. Sadly, the program folded before his younger brother could participate. When Saldaña became a member of the San Antonio City Council many years later, he helped recreate the Learn to Swim program to reduce drowning and build kids’ confidence. He didn’t stop there. Saldaña worked with others to on two big projects—renovating an aquatic center and building a new one—that could ...

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Ex-Football-Coach Creates Trauma-Sensitive Schools to Reduce Absenteeism in San Antonio



John Hernandez coached football in three disadvantaged school districts in Texas. When a player missed practice, Hernandez took it on himself to visit their home. He knew many players faced poverty and other home problems. He would check in on them and offer rides, so the players wouldn’t miss practices and games. Today, Hernandez directs student services at East Central Independent School District in San Antonio. He continues to see students facing poverty and trauma, resulting in missed school, which has disciplinary and even criminal consequences. However, his district didn’t have a program to identify, support, or counsel these students. Hernandez took it on himself to start one. The Problem of Chronic Absenteeism As director of student services, Hernandez is in ...

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How to Turn a Latino Food Desert into a Healthy Food Oasis


Eric Kornacki (left) and Joseph Teipel of Re:Vision in Denver.

Healthy food activists Erick Kornacki and Joseph Teipel have a phrase to call the 81% Latino neighborhood of Westwood in Denver. A "food desert." For decades, Westwood residents have struggled to access healthy food. There are no nearby grocery stores or farmers markets. People lack transportation to find healthy options elsewhere to bring back. Kornacki, Teipel, and Westwood neighbors decided to take matters into their own hands. They began to build backyard vegetable gardens. They talked about how to create a food cooperative. They wanted to build the first community-owned and -run grocer as an oasis in this food desert. Food Deserts Isolate Latinos from Healthy Food In 2007, Kornacki and Teipel co-founded Re:Vision, a nonprofit that works on social justice and food ...

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Texas Border City Turns Bus Stop into Fun Play Place



Sit and wait. That's what most people do at bus stops. Robert de León, a business management analyst with the city of McAllen, thought people could be more active while waiting for buses in McAllen, Texas (85% Latino). In fact, he and other McAllen city employees wanted to turn a bus stop into a play area with swings, hopscotch, and fun for the whole family. Could they turn a sit-place into a play-place, and boost health in McAllen? Sorry State of Health in Hidalgo De León knows health is a problem in McAllen, the largest city in Hildalgo County (91% Latino) in South Texas, which sits next to the Mexican border. Many county residents are living in poverty (26.4%) and report poor or fair health (26.7%), with an obese population of 34.4%. In McAllen, 7.6% don't own ...

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