Engaging youth, energizing communities

This weekend, local youth were engaged in two projects that would ultimately improve the health and well-being of their communities.

  • On Saturday morning, I checked out an awesome mural project at the historic Louie Kee Market, at the corner of Tulare and B streets.

The mural, which is funded through the California Endowment’s Building Health Communitites initiative, is a collaborative effort between the kNOw Youth Media, the Muralistics, and Youth for Christ. The youth spent about a month and a half designing the mural, and are now bringing their ideas to life.

As I gazed at the 1,000-foot-long mural, which spans almost an entire block, San Francisco-based artist Josue Rojas explained how a colorful, youth-driven mural can impact the health of the lower-income neighborhood.

“It’s a source of pride,” said Rojas, who was covered in splattered paint from hat to toe. “If you’re proud of yourself, then you’ll feed yourself right. If you’re proud of yourself, you won’t settle for less.”

Gabriel Cortez, 15, said he hopes the mural’s message leaves an impact on neighborhood youth. In graffiti-style block script, the mural reads: “Fresno is ours; Let’s make Fresno a better place.”

“Kids should get involved in the community more,” said Cortez, as he took a break from painting a vinyl disk on a record turn table.

Miguel Angel Rodríguez, an 18-year-old Fresno City College student, said images on the mural — of people playing soccer, participating in sports, and practicing martial arts — show how people can interact together in the community.

The neighborhood, he said, “is not really so bad if you can interact with other people.”

The youth will be working on the mural for several weeks.

  • From the mural, I headed toward north Fresno, where a group of middle school students from Reedley were among the 11 local teams competing in Canstruction.

During the event — which is being held across the country — student teams and businesses build sculptures out of thousands of cans of food. The food will later be donated to the Community Food Bank.

When I arrived at the event, the General Grant Middle School students were in the process of creating their “Si Se Puede/We Can Do It” exhibit.

The structure featured a farmworker’s hat and a graduation cap – representing the children’s parents and the children’s futures – and an apple, a peach, and a bunch of grapes – representing Reedley’s role in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

The entire structure was made out of 1,000 or 2,000, cans, which were either donated or purchased through monetary donations.

For the students, many of whom come from farmworker families, the sculptures represent how education can build a community, afterschool instructor Anastasia Van Well said. It also allowed the students to get involved in an effort that would give back to their community, she said.

“It’s so fun, and we get to donate, and we get to help the community,” 11-year-old Monique Guzman said of the event.

The structures created during Canstruction will be on display in the River Park shopping center from Oct. 21 – Oct. 30.

Welcome to Harvesting Health!

Hi, and welcome to Vida en el Valle’s new community health blog, Harvesting Health/Cosechando Salud.

This blog is part of a new reporting project, funded by the California Endowment, that will allow Vida en el Valle to spend a year zeroing in on critical health issues that are impacting Latino communities across the San Joaquín Valley.

In stories in our paper, readers will meet the Valley residents affected by community health issues — like exposure to pesticides, access to clean drinking water and healthy air, and the need for safe communities and healthy food. Readers will also meet the community groups advocating for change at the grassroots- and policy-level.

The in-depth stories will also include a public policy perspective: What policies have created these unhealthy situations? What can local or state decison-makers do to fix these problems?

This blog will add even more depth to the stories. Bookmark this page, and check back  often to view videos of Valley residents and community activists, and to learn about health issues as we’re investigating them.

Why is Vida en el Valle dedicating so much time and newsprint toward community health issues?

Because Valley residents are hit on all sides by health and environmental factors, and the poor and people of color are often hit hardest. And because without media attention, conditions like these could persist:

  • The Bakersfield, Visalia-Porterville, Fresno-Madera, Sacramento, and Hanford-Corcoran metropolitan regions rank in the top ten in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2010 rankings for most polluted cities by ozone, year-round particulate pollution, and short-term particulate pollution.

According to the association, minorities and lower-income groups are disproportionately affected by illnesses caused by air pollution.

  • In 2006, more than 326,700 Valley residents were served water with levels of contamination over a legal limit, primarily due to bacteria, nitrates, arsenic, and disinfectant byproducts, according to the Visalia-based Community Water Center.

Latino communities are more likely to have contaminated water than non-Latino communities, the center says.

  • The San Joaquín Valley is home to more than 220 diasdvantaged, unincorporated communities. In these communities, where residents rely on the county government for services, people tend to lack the basic features of a safe and healthy environment, like clean water, sewage lines, storm drains, streetlights, and sidewalks, according to the national research and action institute PolicyLink.

And, because as EPA regional director Jared Blumenfeld put it when asked why he has prioritized environmental justice issues in the San Joaquín Valley, “(The Valley) is a part of the world that deserves attention, and hasn’t gotten the attention it requires.”

These community health stories, blogs, and videos won’t be effective without your input. What health issues are you experiencing in your communities? What types of health improvements do you envision for your neighborhood?

Share your thoughts with Vida en el Valle’s community health reporter via e-mail (rplevin@vidaenelvalle.com), by commenting on this blog, www.blogs.vidaenelvalle.com/health, or by following us on Twitter (@HarvestHealth.)


To read more about this new project, check out next week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.