Entries Tagged 'Youth' ↓

ACT: Camila seeks biracial donor

If you are biracial (Caucasian and Mexican/Latino) you could help save Camila de la Llata’s life.

Camila, 22, was about to return to California State University, Fullerton, for her senior year when she was diagnosed with acute leukemia in August. Today, she urgently needs a bone marrow transplant.

“A doctor cannot save Camila’s life, a donor can,” said Camila’s mother, Robin de la Llata, who is from Porterville.

But the search for a donor is tough. Across the country, just three percent of the 9 million people registered as donors are of Latino heritage; just four percent are biracial.

Bone marrow transplants are based on genetics, and at least nine out of 10 of a donor’s genetic markers must line up with Camila’s, said Robin de la Llata. She compared the difficulty of locating a match to finding a needle in the haystack.

Doctors are concerned that a match won’t be found in time to save Camila’s life, so the family has put out a call to action: They are urging biracial people to register immediately for the national bone marrow donor program, Be the Match, which has established a special drive on Camila’s behalf.

Biracial people between the ages of 18 and 44 years old should visit Camila’s Cure to register to be a potential donor for Camila.

“If she doesn’t find the donor, her chances of survival are severely reduced,” Robin de la Llata said.

Camila is pictured above with her father, Gabriel de la Llata, and her mother, Robin de la Llata.

Back-to-School season comes with a fresh focus on child nutrition

It’s Back-to-School season and this year, that means students are heading back to cafeterias stocked with healthier food.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which took effect July 1, made huge changes to school meals and the entire school food environment, for the first time in 30 years.

This week, there has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about the law, schools’ new menus and child nutrition. Here is a peak at two regional organizations that are focusing on nutrition in schools and communities.

To learn more about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , check out Capital Public Radio’s latest community health documentary, ‘What’s For Lunch? The Move to Improve School Nutrition.’

The documentary will air this Friday (Aug. 24) at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Here’s a preview:

And if you want to know how young people are reacting to schools’ new menus – and want a glimpse into what young people are eating in general – follow the The kNOw Youth Media’s Twitter list.

They are tweeting their meals, as part of their #DiaryofaTeenDiet.

In a recent editorial, the young people at The kNOw said they are hopeful that they can help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the region and nationwide.

One reason we’re so hopeful: Our culture is in favor of healthy weight in children. No one says, “I’m ok with obese kids.” People universally agree that healthy weight in kids is important. Unlike reducing youth violence, working on obesity in kids doesn’t call for a change of culture. It requires a change of what’s available and what’s easiest. Kids will be healthy if it’s an easy option.

How are you and your family bringing a fresh focus to child nutrition?

More about the new school lunch requirements:

More from Harvesting Health on school nutrition:

Asthma epidemic hits Latinos kids

Francisco Ramos, 13, of Firebaugh, was born with a collapsed lung, and is destined to be a chronic asthmatic.

He is one of the many Latino children in the San Joaquín Valley who are impacted by the region’s asthma epidemic, my co-worker Daniel Cásarez writes in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle. His story was produced as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.

In Fresno County, about 19.2 percent of children ages 1 to 17 have been diagnosed with asthma, according to KidsData.org. Statewide, about 14.2 percent of kids have been diagnosed with asthma.

Even with the huge number of asthmatic children in the region, Latino parents – especially those living in rural communities - lack information about the condition, Cásarez reports. He spoke with Drs. Óscar and Marcia Sablán, who have operated the Sablán Medical Clinic in Firebaugh for more than 25 years.

He writes:

Too often, parents rely on humidifiers and Primatene mist and don’t realize it is just a short-term fix. A doctor’s examination is necessary.

“Basically people would not treat asthma; just opt for an ER visit,” said Marcia Sablán.

“They would put a lot of Vicks (vapor rub) on their chest. For someone who has not seen a physician, those are the things they do. They don’t realize they could feel better, and actually have a lot more energy when their asthma is controlled,” adds Óscar Sablán.

“If you’re not aggressive in treating the asthma, then the asthma persists into adulthood, and in a more malignant form.”

Not facing the exacerbations of asthma, another term for asthma attack, could lead to more frequent attacks, if early treatment is not sought.

“If you have a lot of attacks, you are at risk to have another one, but if you can get it under control for an extended period of time, then you have less of a chance of recurrence,” said Óscar Sablán.

To learn more about asthma, check out ‘Latinos lack asthma info’ by Vida en el Valle reporter Daniel Cásarez. Photos, both of Francisco Ramos, also by Cásarez.

Spotlight on: Farmersville

This week, I met three Farmersville High School students who will attend four-year universities this fall, despite the odds that have been stacked against them. They are also among the high school’s four Horatio Alger scholarship recipients.

During the interview, I asked them what about Farmersville – a Tulare County city of 10,588 people, 83.8 percent of whom are Latino – had made it possible for four students to win the prestigious award. In the city – where the median income is $32,886, and 31.2 percent of people live below the poverty level – just 2.4 percent of residents over age 25 have a bachelors degree.

Brenda Rodarte Lira, the class valedictorian who earned a full scholarship to UC Merced, said this:

“We’ve been so used to seeing on the news, ‘this Farmersville teen arrested for gang violence,’ or ‘this shooting happened’ or ‘this girl got pregnant.’ We were so used to the stereotype of boys getting in gangs, girls getting pregnant, or shootings, or death. We just wanted Farmersville to be recognized for amazing academics and students, or just something positive, to eliminate that whole negative stereotype of Farmersville.”

Anney Leyva Luquín, a national award winner who will attend Cal State Monterey Bay, shared this:

“We want Farmersville to be known for so much more. We have a really tight knit community, and that’s really what we want it to be known as: A tight knit community where everyone can count on everyone to be safe, to have a safe place to succeed.”

Next time you drive past Farmersville – or another small San Joaquín Valley community – challenge yourself to reflect on the positive aspects of those places – like their inspiring youth.

From top, Vida editor Juan Esparza photographs three of the school’s Horatio Alger scholarship recipients. Farmersville High School’s class of 2011 celebrates after their graduation ceremony.

A flash mob and Tupac… at an extraordinary Assembly hearing

UPDATE: ‘Educational hurdles for minorities’ ran in the April 18 edition of Vida en el Valle.

The Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a regional hearing at Fresno City Hall last Friday.

This was no ordinary hearing.

The hearing was intended to investigate ways to improve the lives of young men of color in communities across the state. And in Fresno – where boys and men of color comprised 65.2 percent of the city’s total male population in 2010 – there is a lot of room for improvement.

But this extraordinary hearing proved that despite the social and educational challenges facing young men of color, there is a lot to be hopeful about.

Minutes into the hearing, Roosevelt High School students “flashmobbed” the Fresno City Council Chambers, and began singing and dancing to the Black Eyes Peas song, ‘One Tribe.’ Everyone in the packed audience – and especially the legislators on the dais – clapped to the beat of the song.

Throughout the hearing, young people shared their stories of struggle and triumph. At times, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes, instead of taking notes. (You can read more about these stories in this week’s edition of Vida.)

Toward the end of the hearing, Sammy Nuñez, of Fathers and Families of San Joaquín, complimented the youth on their performance.

“Earlier today we saw our young people do a phenomenal job – they rocked the place,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I loved every minute of it.”

Then he launched into a performance of his own, reciting the lyrics of ‘The Rose That Grew from Concrete,’ by Tupac Shakur:

You see, you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love its will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals.

Based on all of those performance, I’d say there is enough energy, commitment, and passion to bring #BMOC Justice to Fresno.

Boys and Men of Color, previously on Harvesting Health:

Boys and Men of Color, on other blogs:

VIDEO: Caruthers graduates are a teen pregnancy success story

I met Stephanie Huerta and Angel Alvarez in June 2010, when they graduated from the rigorous Doctors Academy at Caruthers High School.

She was ranked third in her graduating class; he was a three-sport varsity athlete; and their daugther, Emily, was three years old. The teen parents, who were engaged, intended to attend UC Santa Cruz and raise their daughter together.

At that point, I was inspired by how much the pair had overcome, and how determined they were to succeed – together – in order to provide for their daughter. Even after interviewing dozens of young women for an in-depth series on teen pregnancy last year, this couple’s still story stood out to me.
So earlier this year, I reconnected with Stephanie. My co-worker, photographer Daniel Cásarez, and I visited the family in February at UC Santa Cruz, where they are now full-time students. They intend to get married once they can afford Stephanie’s dream wedding, and will raise Emily – and maybe more children – together.

As we sat in their small kitchen, in their Student Family Housing apartment with a view of the Pacific Ocean, I realized that this is the teen pregnancy success story we don’t hear often enough.

So – what’s the secret? – I asked them. How have you two been so successful, in school and as parents, when so many other teen parents face significant challenges?

“We just love each other,” Angel said. “It’s as simple as that.”

“We’ve gone through so much,” Stephanie said. “One little thing just doesn’t make a difference.”

Read more about Stephanie, Angel and Emily in ‘Baby Steps in College,’ featured in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.

Photos and video by Daniel Cásarez.

Budget cuts would hurt families

Read the full story, ‘Budget cuts will hurt families,’ at vidaenelvalle.com.

If the state legislature approves cuts to CalWORKS proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget, low-income families could lose the child care they depend on. That could cause parents to quit their jobs to stay home with their kids, and sink back into poverty.

And it could cause Sharon Esquivel – who has transformed her southeast Fresno home into a colorful day care, complete with a cozy classroom (pictured below,) a small library, and a backyard garden (pictured above) – to be out of a job.

Under the governor’s proposal, “the folks who really need help, and the folks who are struggling to get out of poverty, are left behind,” said Mike Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s a much higher mountain to climb out of poverty under this proposal than current law.”

The proposed cuts are a personal blow to Esquivel, who grew up in Fresno as one of 14 kids born to a poor, single mom. She goes above and beyond to provide children in her day care with educational opportunities, entertainment, and food, even though she is paid just $29 per child, per day.

“When I see these little children with their beat-up little shoes and their moms bringing them in with their little second-hand sweaters and their second-hand shorts, I recognize it, I know it,” she said. “It is deep for me to do all these things for them because I didn’t have it, and I wanted it.”

As Esquivel waits for the state legislature to determine which CalWORKS cuts will go through, her only option is to keep doing what she has excelled at for 21 years: Caring for children.

“We’re just grinning and bearing it,” she said of the proposed cuts.

More from Harvesting Health on the 2012-13 budget:

Advocates: Labor laws protect kids

Nicholás Chávez, 16, of Tipton, suffered from heat illness this summer after he worked the night shift in the pepper fields, when the temperature was still in the triple digits, according to Vida en el Valle.

Armando Ramírez, 16, of Arvin, died this summer after he was overcome by fumes inside an 8-foot-deep drainage tunnel at Community Recycling and Resource Co. in Lamont, according to the Bakersfield Californian.

María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez, a pregnant 17-year-old, died of heat stroke in 2008 after collapsing in a Farmington vineyard, according to Vida.

For the first time in 40 years, the Department of Labor has proposed updates to the country’s child labor regulations. Tougher regulations, advocates say, could have protected the health of these San Joaquín Valley youth, and the health of other children who work in the agriculture, which is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in the country.

The country’s child labor laws, “have not been touched in over 40 years, despite that the agricultural landscape has changed a lot – there’s a lot more chemicals, and a lot more machinery,” said Norma Flores López, director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs’ Children in the Fields campaign.

“Instead of kids doing this kind of work, let’s keep these kids from doing this type of work until they are 16. We’re asking kids to wait until doing more dangerous work.”

The proposed regulations would prevent children 16 and under from participating in the riskiest agricultural jobs – like driving tractors, herding animals into confined spaces, working on ladders, working inside a manure pit, working in the tobacco industry, and handling used pesticide containers.

The regulations would, “help keep kids from being able to do very dangerous work, while still being able to maintain the family-farming exception,” Flores López said.

“What this really boils down to is making sure that we are protecting the well-being of children,” she said. The regulations, she said, “make sure that the safety of kids are being put first.”

In a statement, the National Farmers Union – which advocates for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities – also said it supports the intent of the regulations, as long as they don’t discourage kids from learning about agriculture.

“Farming is not simply an occupation, but a lifestyle that has been passed down from generation to generation,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.

“In order to ensure the viability of our family farms for the future, it is critical that farmers are able to teach their children how to perform agricultural work safely and responsibly. The proposed regulations preserve that ability.”

The comment period for these proposed regulations ended Dec. 1. The Department is currently reviewing comments. Photos by Héctor Navejas, Vida en el Valle, and Michael  McCollum, The Record.

2011′s top community health issues

Well friends, another year of investigating community health in the San Joaquín Valley is coming to an end.

Below are my picks for the Valley’s top five community health issues/trends of 2011. What did I miss? What issues were important to you this year? And what would you like to read more about next year? Let me know in the comments section below!

1. San Joaquín Valley’s contaminated drinking water grabs international attention

In March, a United Nations independent expert visited the tiny Tulare County community of Seville, where she learned about San Joaquín Valley residents’ prolonged fight for affordable and clean drinking water.

The visit was part of a 10-day tour through the United States that included stops in communities that have limited or unequal access to safe drinking water and sanitation services.

Her report, presented to the U.N. this fall, did not mince words when describing those communities — including numerous unincorporated, majority Latino communities in Tulare County — that have been marginalized and excluded from this basic right.

“While these groups comprise a small proportion of the population, the independent expert emphasizes that they need priority attention,” she wrote. The agricultural San Joaquín Valley is “experiencing enormous challenges, particularly nitrate contamination, with regard to drinking water.”

Water advocates hoped the U.N. report would shine a bright light on the Valley’s drinking water challenges, which disproportionately impact Latinos, and help them advocate for the Human Right to Water bill package, which was making its way through Sacramento.

It all must have made an impact. In October, Governor Brown signed the Human Right to Water bill package, which is intended to ensure that communities across the state have access to clean, affordable drinking water.

2. Poverty increases

Though the great recession officially ended in June 2009, Latinos across the country continued to struggle with poverty and food insecurity in 2010, government statistics showed this fall.

Nationwide, 26.6 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in poverty in 2010, up from 25.3 percent in 2009, according to statistics released last week by U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010.

California’s overall poverty rate — at 16.3 percent in 2010, up from 15.3 percent in 2009 — was above the country’s overall rate, 15.1 percent in 2010. In Fresno County, 20.9 percent of residents lived below the poverty line, according to the 2005-09 American Community Survey, the most recent data available.

In the Valley, the increase in poverty was evident at the Fresno Rescue Mission Emergency Family Shelter, where more and more families were seeking shelter after they had lost their job or home.

It was evident outside of Catholic Charities in September, when a husband and wife – both with degrees in social work – waited in line to receive food from the Neighborhood Market food distribution. (After I blogged about this couple, the woman was offered a job at Catholic Charities.)

And it was evident in November, when possibly hundreds of people were evicted from downtown Fresno’s homeless encampments. Two of the people I interviewed had landed on the streets when the money they made working in the San Joaquín Valley fields and packinghouses no longer covered the rent.

3. School food tops the menu

As child obesity – as well as poverty and food insecurity – has increased across the state and nation, more attention has been focused on the meals students eat while at school.

This winter, I reported on the trend of schools using innovative methods to ensure students eat breakfast.

 Studies show that breakfast increases kids’ health and improve their academic achievement. Also, teachers report fewer behavioral problems and higher attendance rates, school nurses see fewer students complaining of stomach aches, and school districts benefit from federal meal reimbursements.

And thanks, in part, to the efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, schools began removing chocolate and strawberry milks from their school cafeterias. Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, and Valley districts – including Earlimart, in Tulare Count – have also stopped offering flavored milk.

Is all this attention on school nutrition making an impact? I’d like to say ‘yes,’ but a recent Los Angeles Times story reports that L.A. Unified’s “trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop.”

4. Health reform provides benefits – and challenges

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won’t be fully implemented until 2014, but the San Joaquín Valley is already experiencing ups and down from the law.

The Affordable Care Act designates funds to support the ongoing operations of community health clinics, create new health center sites in medically underserved areas, and expand preventative and primary health care services at health center sites, according to HealthCare.gov.

A sizeable portion of that money has been funneled into the medically underserved San Joaquín Valley. It’s hard to keep track of all the money coming into the Valley, but I’ve started tracking it in this blog post.

But preparing for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has also proven challenging for Fresno County. In September, the county board of supervisors voted 3-2 to withdraw the county’s Low Income Health Program application from consideration by the State Department of Health Care Services.

With the vote, the county became the first in the state to withdraw its application for the program, which was intended to help counties prepare for the expansion of Medi-Cal that will come with the implementation of the federal health care law in 2014.

5. Residents, experts approach environmental justice seriously and scientifically

As I reported this summer, people of color have become the state’s strongest environmentalists, since they are most burdened by environmental pollution, and the resulting health problems.

So this fall, it was neat to hear about two projects that are comprehensively measuring just how badly residents are burdened by pollution.

In Arvin – a farmworker community that has been considered one of the smoggiest cities in the nation – residents have kicked off a two-year, community-led air monitoring project, or “bucket brigade.”

And UC Davis researchers just released a three-year study that analyzes every census block in the eight-county Valley, and assigns each one a numerical score for environmental hazards, based on the most recent data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and another score for its social vulnerability, based on recent U.S. Census data.

In the new year, both projects could be great tools for communities advocating for health and environmental justices.

From the archives:

File photos by Rebecca Plevin and Daniel Cásarez.

The story behind the story

“Why do you care about the students here?” Leonides Olea, 24, asked me a couple weeks ago.

I was interviewing Olea – a student at the YouthBuild Charter School of California Central, partnered locally with the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission’s Local Conservation Corps – for the first story in a series of articles that would chronicle his path toward achieving a high school diploma.

Well, I told him, it’s a long story, and it goes something like this:

Earlier this year, I partnered with Marcus Vega, who was a youth reporter with The kNOw Youth Media, to work on a series of stories about youth homelessness. As we worked on the stories, I also learned more about Marcus’ personal experiences with youth homelessness. (Read his first-person piece about this reporting project and his own experiences with homelessness.)

As I wrote in a blog post about the reporting project, working with Marcus proved to me that education truly is a path out of poverty – but that it can be so difficult for homeless youth to achieve, when they are just focused on day-to-day survival.

But it wasn’t until I covered the first hearing of the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color that I truly understood how many young men in our community are at risk of falling through the cracks.

During the hearing, experts testified about the gross disparities in health, education, incarceration and violence impacting boys and young men of color. If these disparities are not improved, there could be major ramifications for the future of the state – where 70 percent of those under 18 are children of color – and for the country – where half of all residents are projected to be people of color by 2040.

It would have been a depressing hearing, if it were not for the handful of young men who told their own stories of struggle – and eventual success. Hearing those testimonies made me want to connect with a young man in the Valley and follow him, to see what it would take for him to succeed.

And that’s how I found myself at the YouthBuild Charter School, interviewing Olea, a 24-year-old father of five who has embraced the opportunity to achieve his high school degree as if his life depended on it.

“I have been shot twice, I have been stabbed twice, but I’m still here,” he said. “I see that as a sign just letting me know that I’m wanted here for some reason — because if not, I would have been gone a long time ago.”

I believe in young men like Vega and Olea. And so does Dr. Vajra Watson, director of research and policy for equity within the UC Davis School of Education, who described her own belief in youth during a conference at UC Merced last week.

“Education is a gateway to survival – but marginalization is man-made, intergenerational and systemic,” she said. “All great movements begin in the heart of a young person.”

Other reporting on barriers to youth success: