Youth for Healthy Schools activates youth of color to ensure every child grows up healthy
For Immediate Release
For Further Information:
Mόnica Cόrdova, FCYO Healthy Communities Program Director 505-385-6590
Nijmie Dzurinko, Healthy Communities III Coach 215-667-0066
The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) is excited to announce the launch of Healthy Communities III, Youth for Healthy Schools. Due to systemic inequities in their schools and communities, low-income young people of color are at a very high risk for obesity, chronic disease, high stress and other health-related issues that impede them from growing up healthy. This initiative supports low-income young people and young people of color organizing to address the root causes of these health challenges and to connect their local campaigns to statewide and national strategies. The third phase of Healthy Communities, will further advance the leadership of young people of color in advocating for the creation of healthy schools as a foundation for the improved physical, social and emotional health of students.
The foundation of the Healthy Communities III initiative is a fellowship program connected to eight host organizing groups across seven states. Each group hosts a Healthy Communities Fellow who leads their school and community wellness work and connects it to state and national strategies for change including community education and engagement, and policy development and implementation. Additionally, there are six partner organizations in five states who are leading campaigns to create healthy school environments . Through Healthy Communities III, all host and partner organizations receive peer support and technical assistance in the areas of policy, strategy, and communications.
Sandra Garcia, a fellow from Healthy Communities II, which just wrapped, secured 53 changes to the San Antonio school district food menu, including more fresh vegetables, whole grains, and vegetarian options. Sandra was working as the youth coordinator with Southwest Workers. “I have been able to grow an understanding that my background and my story are very important for connecting with youth and parents on a level where they understand the importance of healthy foods in the school and at home,” said Sandra. “The grant has given us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with food policy players.” The third phase of this initiative hopes to continue making impacts at the policy level to improve wellness in communities of color.
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Healthy Communities Host and Partner Sites
Host Organizations and Fellows:
- Community Food Advocates, New York, NY; Fellow: Kristina Erskine
- FEEST Seattle, Seattle, WA; Fellow: Thuy-Mai Nguyen
- InnerCity Struggle, Los Angeles, CA; Fellow: Estefany Ines Garcia
- Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, Denver, CO; Fellow: Cinthia Suasti
- RYSE Center, Richmond, CA; Fellow: Brian Villa
- SouthWest Organizing Project, Albuquerque, NM; Fellow: Amanda Gallegos
- Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), Raleigh, NC; Fellow: Erica Marshall
- Youth United for Change, Philadelphia, PA; Fellow: Nick Ospa
- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Chicago, Illinois
- Grow Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut
- F.R.E.S.H New London, New London Connecticut
- The SouthWest Worker’s Union, San Antonio, Texas
- The Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore, Maryland
- Providence Student Union, Providence, Rhode Island
Founded in 2000, the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) is a dynamic collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners dedicated to advancing youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change. FCYO’s mission is to increase resources to the field of youth organizing and promote the leadership of low-income young people and young people of color in social justice organizing.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.
House Nutrition Bill: More paperwork and less nutrition for poor kids
Youth for Healthy Schools strongly opposes the harmful changes in the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003).We support strong nutrition standards for all students and universal free meals for poor students with no stigma and bureaucratic barriers.
Specifically, the draft proposes to roll back standards on whole grains, and slow or stall the reduction of sodium in school meals based on factors like increased costs and levels of student participation. Basing the quality of food served in our schools on how much it costs amounts to telling poor students that healthy food is too good for them. This hypocritical move would also mean that school meals will be out of step with dietary guidelines for Americans.
The draft also reduces the impact of “smart snacks” standards, allowing a return to the days when students are expected to market unhealthy foods to their peers while also having to navigate a cafeteria full of chips, fries, and ice cream.
Finally, the draft would reduce the number of schools that can opt into the Community Eligibility Provision, which according to a recent report by the Center for Budget Policy Priorities has been shown to limit the paperwork required of schools and families, reduce error rates in program applications, and combat hunger by increasing children’s participation in meal programs. Currently, the provision allows schools where at least 40% of students receive safety net benefits to offer free meals to all students, and have schools use local funds to cover any costs that are not covered by federal reimbursement. This bill would raise the threshold to 60%, meaning that schools will have to go back to collecting and processing applications from each family. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities reports that 7,000 high poverty schools with over three million students would have to reinstate applications. Ultimately, our taxes will be going to paperwork rather than to meals and education, punishing poor students in communities around the country – be they urban, suburban, rural or reservations.
“I read about the House’s reauthorization bill and it’s very discouraging. Our families in Southwest Denver already have to work hard to make sure we have access to fresh, healthy food. Does the federal government really care about the health of students like me? About hungry kids in my school who have trouble concentrating?” questioned Estefania Torres, 9th grader and member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.
Youth for Healthy Schools promotes and implements evidence-based practices to increase the availability and affordability of fresh, local and healthy food in our schools and communities. We support full funding and implementation of farm to school programs, training and technical assistance for cafeteria staff, renovation of kitchens for the fresh preparation of food, and free school meals to high poverty schools.
Youth United for Change (YUC) in partnership with other community and advocacy groups, won a commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains throughout all public schools. The announcement comes on the heels of a recent City Council Hearing on the State of Water in Philadelphia. YUC members were in attendance and provided testimony. Getting the district to agree to a full assessment of the water infrastructure in all SDP schools met one of YUC’s demands for water access. This is a big victory for the campaign, but there is still much work to be done. YUC will continue to press for the availability of clean and safe drinking water for all Philadelphia students; with $88 million dollars of unexpected local tax revenues, this windfall could be transformative in not only addressing issues of water access but also broader material conditions within schools. A big shout out to the Food Trust, Education Law Center-PA, CHOP PolicyLab, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the PFT, PennEnvironment and the Campaign for Lead Free Water for helping creating the conditions for greater oversight regarding Philadelphia’s water
Read more here.
Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color leading a movement for school and community wellness, celebrates the 5-year anniversary of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
We believe that healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We also believe strong policy is essential to helping ensure that communities of color and low-income communities have access to fresh and healthy food. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is an important advancement in creating healthier school environments for all students in public schools.
As youth and parents, we are leading efforts in our local communities to improve school food by securing funds and partnerships for farm to school programs, scratch kitchens, and salad bars. We have fought and won for programs that ensure students receive breakfast in the classroom. We are ensuring youth voice in local food policy councils and winning school based wellness centers that attend to the holistic health and wellness needs of students and communities.
We have educated ourselves about the reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act over this year, and we agree with the standards put forward in the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act like less sodium, increased whole grains, and requirements to serve more fruits and vegetables. We know that healthy food can taste great, especially when it is fresh and local. And eating food that is fresh instead of processed means that portion sizes can be bigger too. One of our members had this to say: “When they started giving us fruits and vegetables at lunch, I started eating them,” – Jesus of Inner City Struggle in L.A., a member of Youth for Healthy Schools.
School food is no laughing matter. We may be the first generation of students with a shorter life expectancy that our parents. Maintaining a healthy weight and warding off diseases like diabetes are harder and harder when communities of color and low-income communities lack fresh, healthy, affordable food options. In order to make nutrition standards really work for students, we need to source our food from local farms instead of the industrial factory-made food that is currently provided by corporations.
We call on Congress to make reauthorization of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids with strong standards and increased funding a priority, not a political football. Support us in creating a healthy future.
My mother had a heart attack when I was 16. I remember my father telling me that if she died, I would become caregiver for him, my two brothers and my nephew – cooking, cleaning the house, and everything in between. Luckily, my mother came home from the hospital with a warning from the doctor – she had to change her eating habits to survive.
In my house, everything was made with spoonsful of Armour Manteca (lard). It came in a little green box and we used it for eggs, meats, beans and even for baking. We ate menudo (soup with beef stomach) and tripe. These foods evolved using the parts that the butcher would throw away or sell very cheap since it was considered trash. Growing up I believed that the food we ate was just a part of our culture, but looking back but as an adult I realized it was the cheapest, but unhealthiest food we could get. I started having conversations with others that grew up eating similar foods and I saw the patterns – diabetes, heart disease and other diseases directly related to the food we ate.
By chance, in my college economics class there was a guest speaker one day from the Southwest Workers Union. They were announcing a major march or immigration issues in 2006. They also announced they would be having a summer program if anyone would like to apply. I was shy and didn’t speak up, but I did end up joining the summer program one week late. My friend Diana would call me to be part of the meetings.
After Interning for the summer I was hired on as a youth organizer. We were fighting environmental racism in San Antonio. After the city voted to put two more fuel storage tanks on the East Side we brainstormed how can we get something good there for a change, and out came the Roots of Change community garden.
When SWU started the Roots of Change Garden in 2007, I realized how beautiful it was to grow your own naturally organic food. I was a youth organizer getting youth involved and facilitating the process of how to start home gardens, while just learning a week before. The trial and error process of turning a vacant lot that had been used for drug dealing to a beautiful acre of produce inspired me to grow my own food at home. I started with my favorite items that I use a lot in my cooking, cilantro, garlic, and all sorts of peppers.
I realized that our traditional diet and our traditional way of eating is actually healthy – filled with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Yet because we don’t have access to land to grow food or the resources to purchase high quality food, or even the education of better alternatives my family and so many others grew accustomed to cheap and readily available highly processed food products.
More and more young people are waking up to the connection between the health of our families and communities and access to land, resources and education. I am privileged to be the youth coordinator with the Southwest Workers Union – Youth Leadership Organization. Our youth leaders wrote “Thinking Green” a sustainability plan that included five areas: Food, Energy, Waste, Transportation and Awareness. Here’s an excerpt from the plan regarding school food:
We created a garden at Edison high school that got its own compost pile and green house. This is now a pilot for the entire San Antonio Independent school District. We are developing a Farm to School pilot program that sets a percentage goal for the amount of locally grown produce used in meals, establishing more healthy, fresh menu options in schools across the district, and establishing a Junk Free Food Zone that eliminates unhealthy vending machines and snack options in schools.
I saw firsthand the changes that eating healthy made in my mom’s life. I’m inspired every day to be able to work with young people who are fighting for fresh, healthy, and whole food in our schools and communities so that this generation and the ones to come can live long, healthy and fulfilling lives.