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Community Health Crusade
Latino Health Access
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October 16, 2009

Four years ago, in a national survey of America's toughest cities to live in — weighing levels of crime, poverty and disease — Santa Ana, California ranked number one. But now, the residents have something to celebrate: a new park. Little comes easy in Santa Ana, and community activist America Bracho and her neighbors worked for years to win their park from the city establishment.
This land is more than dirt. This land is the dream of seven years for our community to have a place where our children can play. For this project to get this far, we have had to do a lot of asking.

But, it doesn't matter, I'm not ashamed to ask. And no one should feel ashamed of asking and fighting. What we should feel ashamed about is not participating in providing our families a better life. Because if we don't do it, no one is going to. This park is here because we chose to participate. --America Bracho
The new park is just one of the many endeavors undertaken by Latino Health Access, an organization founded by public health doctor America Bracho in 1993. Bracho's group began by addressing one endemic problem in the Santa Ana community — diabetes among adults and children. Combatting diabetes requires health education as well as changes in diet and exercise. As Bracho notes "we started teaching classes in laundromats, in garage, in apartments, in churches, everywhere." Programs expanded to include after-school activities for kids, healthy eating and cooking lessons, elder and mental health outreach and civic engagement.

The Promotores Program

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A core element in the Latino Health Access's successful programs are the 'promotores,' — Spanish for "to promote." The promotores are outreach workers drawn from the community they serve. They do home visits and preside over Latino Health Access' free classes and meetings. Over the years the ranks of the promotores has grown to include a number of young people reaching out to the community's teens and young adults in an effort to combat dropout rates, addiction and crime. JOURNAL producers followed promotora Araceli Robles on a visit where she shares crucial information about child development from the Mother to Mother Program.

The Battle for the Park

Santa Ana not only had a high ranking in national "hardship indexes" but ranked far below the nation's 50 largest cities in parkland acres per person. Latino Health Access and community parents began lobbying for new parklands to provide children with safe and healthy outdoor space for play and exercise. The battle for the park became a crusade for both health and equality.

I have to confess, when I see vacant lots [...] I see injustice. If we are invisible to the people that allocate money, if we are invisible to the people that do planning, if we are invisible to the people that have the resources, there is something wrong with that picture. If you can make the decision, as a political representative, or as the leader of an institution, you can make the decision of putting a park in a place and liquor stores in another place and you put the liquor stores in my neighborhood, and the parks in the other neighborhood, there is something very wrong with that. --America Bracho
After seven years, the city of Santa Ana will break ground on the new community park in November, 2009.

Your Neighborhood's Health

When one of the many versions of health care reform legislation included billions of dollars for walking paths, streetlights, jungle gyms, and even farmers' markets, some critics called foul. THE BOSTON GLOBE reported on the debate: "In health bill, billions for parks, paths: Supporters cite prevention, but add-ons' critics see pork." But a new study from the Archives of Internal Medicine makes the case for the health value of everything from farmers markets to bike paths or even sidewalks. Indeed, those who live in neighborhoods with more opportunities for physical exercise have "a 38 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes compared with people who don’t."

There are many online tools to help you discover the challenges faced by your own community — from health statistics to hardship indexes measuring economic stress to pollution levels or parks per capita. Use the tools below to find more information and how to get involved.

Dr. America Bracho

Dr. America Bracho is the executive director of Latino Health Access, a center for health promotion and disease prevention located in Santa Ana, California. This organization was created under her leadership to assist with the multiple health needs of Latinos in Orange County. Latino Health Access facilitates mechanisms of empowerment for the Latino community and uses participatory approaches to community health education. The programs train citizens as community health workers to become leaders of wellness and change. America worked as a physician in her native Venezuela, before coming to the U.S. to obtain a master's degree in Public Health at the University of Michigan. Her public health specialty is Health Education and Health Behavior.
Related Media:
View a collection of JOURNAL stories about people organizing their communities for change.

View the JOURNAL's ongoing coverage of the debate over health care reform.

References and Reading:
Latino Health Access
Find out more about the programs administerd by Latino Health Access.

"FAT: What No One Is Telling You"
Read an interview with Dr. America Bracho from the PBS special program.

"Can your neighborhood make you sick? "
LOS ANGELES TIMES, October 12, 2009

Your Neighborhood's Health

Trust for America's Health The Trust's Web site lets you plug in your state to discover key health facts from the percentage of uninsured to hypertension rate to areas with a shortage of medical personnel. Healthy Behavior Map
The 50 states ranked for practicing healthful behaviors — including eating healthily, exercising, and not smoking.

ONLINE NEWSHOUR: Patchwork Nation,The ONLINE NEWSHOUR's Patchwork Nation feature provides visual renderings of the U.S. map down to county level for a variety of issues and scenarios — including boomtowns, evangelical epicenters and many others. The feature also includes a "hardship index" calculated on:
  • Gas prices in the previous month; The change in gas prices from two months ago to the previous month
  • An estimate of the percentage of monthly household spending dedicated to fuel consumption and car maintenance
  • The unemployment rate from two months ago
  • Home foreclosures per 1,000 homes in the previous month
  • Change in home foreclosures per 1,000 homes from two months ago to the previous month
    This Web site offers tools to get facts on local pollution in your community. Enter your zip code to find out what pollutants are being released into your community-and who is responsible. Also, learn about air pollutants, land contamination, lead hazards, environmental priorities in your neighborhood and more.

    The Trust for Public Land
    The Trust for Public Land advocates for parks, gardens, and other natural places in communities around the nation. The group also calculates park space per capita.
  • Also This Week:
    Reporting from the world's most troubled hotspots, Mark Danner has seen countless deaths over ethnic and political divides, and witnessed firsthand how U.S. attempts to exploit those conflicts have resulted in disastrous unforeseen consequences. Danner speaks with Bill Moyers about Obama’s challenges in resetting the mindset of America from war to peace, and redefining the US as a nation.

    View a collection of JOURNAL stories on foreign affairs, war, and veterans' issues.

    The JOURNAL profiles public health doctor America Bracho, who serves her Santa Ana, CA community – notorious for crime, poverty and disease – with her organization, Latino Health Access.

    The JOURNAL profiles community activists working for change around the globe.

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