In 2010, a health foundation called the California Endowment, which strives to improve health standards by providing grants and support statewide, launched the Building Healthy Communities initiative. The Endowment devoted one billion dollars to this ten-year initiative, with the goal of “radically improving the health in 14 California communities where the need is great, but the potential for transformation is even greater.” (calendow.org)
The California Endowment’s mission is oriented around improving health standards in neighborhoods, in schools, and with prevention. By reaching out to diverse communities throughout the state, the Endowment’s “Health Happens Here” campaign aims to expand the breadth of health care access, as well as improve everyday health standards in communities.
Now, the Endowment is “making health happen by Building Healthy Communities.” (calendow.org)
This Building Healthy Communities initiative is devoted to improving health in 14 regions of California, including
City Heights, Del Norte County, East Oakland, Fresno, Richmond, South Los Angeles, South Sacramento, and Merced. The initiative “is putting forth an expansive and inclusive vision for healthy communities that includes all Californians.” (dornsife.usc.edu)
The California Endowment originally designed ten broad outcomes for each region to focus on throughout the course of the BHC initiative. As time progressed, however, traits unique to each region suggested that more individualized goals would better suit the initiative. Each region’s “hub,” or, committee composed of residents, non-profit organizations, local leaders, and program managers, focused on outcomes more specific to their region.
These outcomes, also called local campaign issues, all fall under three of the California Endowment missions: Health Happens in Schools, Health Happens in Neighborhoods, and Health Happens with Prevention. Specific focuses for each region include school wellness, food systems, economic development, youth opportunities, and public health coverage.
The California Endowment has both promoted new programs and encouraged the growth of former ideas in order to help local communities improve. In South Sacramento, the BHC Initiative helped to expand a Food Charter program which would regulate food standards in Sacramento. Aspects of the Food Charter became viable when companies and organizations began to take notice of the idea. Due to the expansion of the Food Charter, the local school district now provides a salad bar for all student lunches, and increasing numbers of students are enrolled in free and reduced-fee lunch programs.
In Southern Los Angeles, the BHC initiative aided student leaders in their protest of a $250 ticketing policy for late or truant students. Between 2004 and 2011, over 80,000 tickets had burdened Los Angeles families, discouraging many students from attending school in fear of “ticketing sweeps.” In February of 2012, after a buildup of pressure from students and families, the city council ended the policy in a 14-0 vote.
Similar success stories from other BHC regions include healthier school lunch regulations in Del Norte County, Physical Education curriculum reform in Sacramento schools, community gardens in Sacramento schools, and the opening of a community health clinic in City Heights.
The Building Healthy Communities initiative is just getting started, and today, communities continue to work toward their goals of improving health for all residents. Said one California Endowment Program Manager, “Residents are starting to believe change is possible. They are starting to take action, hold leaders accountable, and work in partnership to actually solve their problems.”
To learn more about the Building Healthy Communities initiative, visit the California Endowment’s website.