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Farmersville opens up a dialogue about child health

Farmersville opens up a dialogue about child health

You can’t solve all of the world’s problems in one day. In fact, you can’t solve all of the problems in a single town in one day, but not for a lack of trying.

On Jan. 29, the UC Davis Center for Regional Change in conjunction with the American Friends Service Committee held a “community dialogue” from 3-5 p.m. at Farmersville City Hall to share information, identify problems and offer solutions for the health and well being of Farmersville children.

Carolyn Abrams with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change began the conversation by asking those in attendance to identify the issues facing their community. Farmersville Unified School Board member Lupe Fernandes said there were not enough youth sports in the community to combat childhood obesity as well as a healthy culture for children.

Ana Lopez, a former employee with the Child Abuse Prevention Council, said Farmersville needed a family center, such as a Healthy Start, that could bring additional funding to town for youth programs and activities. She said women and children needed a place to feel comfortable where they could talk about issues such as child abuse, spousal abuse, hunger, poverty, etc. She said her family has access to the Internet but many of their neighbors cannot afford it. She said one of her son’s classmates come over to their house to do his homework on the computer because he doesn’t have one.

“Not everyone has a computer and not everyone lives in a neighborhood where other kids are allowed to come over and use it,” she said.

Billie Shawl, coordinator of the Tulare County Child Abuse Prevention Council, many funders don’t come to the area because there are no systems in place to put the money to good use, such as a family resource center. She said that type of entity could also provide parenting classes and family counseling as well as translation services.

“Language is definitely a barrier,” Shawl said. “People don’t know how the systems work because they can’t read the information to find out for themselves or because they don’t trust government organizations out of fear for their immigration status.”

Farmersville Mayor Greg Gomez said students needed access to more one-on-one tutoring after school, especially in math and sciences. He said for those not interested in college preparatory work, he thinks the City also needs a program to teach young adults job skills and provide job training. One of the city’s biggest obstacles for residents to access services is a lack of local offerings and a lack of transportation. The City’s lack of industry means less jobs and less of a tax base to provide services to people with low or no-paying jobs.

“The bus system provided by Visalia does not meet the needs of the residents,” he said. “It only stops every 90 minutes and once riders get to Visalia they don’t know how to get around on the bus.”

Others mentioned a lack of good parks, unmaintained sidewalks, poor street lighting and a lack of communication between the school district and the city hall, as well as both of those entities and the residents.

According to a briefing paper issued by the Fund in November 2014, the top issues in the San Joaquin Valley are: 1. School Readiness; 2. Obesity; 3. Behavioral Problems; 4. Mental Health; 5. Asthma & Other Respiratory Illnesses. Contributing factors to those problems included poverty, lack of access to healthy food sources, inadequate early childhood development, access to health care and housing.

After discussing the town’s issues, Myrna Martinez-Nateras, director of the American Friends Service Committee Pan Valley Institute, asked those in attendance to come up with some solutions to Farmersville’s problems. The Quaker group leader encouraged those in attendance to focus on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of their community.

Fire Chief John Crivello mentioned the City is currently employing 10 people through Proteus Inc.’s drought relief program to help clean up some of the parks and begin working on patching the City’s sidewalks. Shawl mentioned that Farmersville was the first city in the nation to approve a proclamation designating Farmersville as ‘A Community For Child Well Being.” The proclamation says the City and its residents, businesses and organizations pledge to protect and nurture children by providing a safe environment. More specifically, it says the City Council agrees to receive an annual report on the “status of Farmersville’s children” as well as erecting a “Children’s Bench” somewhere in the City as a symbol to remind them of their support for the ideals within the proclamation.

Shawl is also part of Lea ConMigo, a coalition of non-profit leaders focused on improving literacy in Farmersville. The coalition focused their efforts on third grade reading, a critical benchmark in a student’s academic achievement, after identifying that 75% of 8 year olds at Farmersville Unified School District are below proficient in English Language Arts and 34% of Farmersville adults have less than a 9th grade education.

In order to improve literacy, Shawl said the organization has received funding to help it open a library in the southern portion of the Farmersville Community Center and is working with the County Librarian to make Farmersville a branch of the County Library System.

Fernandes shared that the City and School District shared an automated notification system at one time and are attempting to re-establish that system to promote community events and activities as well as opportunities for volunteering in town.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Gomez said the participants ranked the Top 5 problems facing children in town. They were: 1. School Readiness; 2. Overweight/Obesity; 3. Behavioral Problems; 4. Mental Health; 5. Asthma & Other Respiratory Illnesses.

“They are gathering ideas up and down the Valley and compiling as much data as they can,” Gomez said. “Once they have analyzed it, they will come back to Farmersville and other towns and present what they found.”

The Farmersville meeting was one of 10 being conducted for the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund to gather input from people living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. The Fund aims to make the San Joaquin Valley a healthier place to live, work and prosper by strengthening the capacity of communities and organizations to advance program, policy and systems in an effort to promote community health.

In consultation with funding partners and Valley leaders, the Fund addresses health disparities and factors that impact health, such as food security, air quality, clean drinking water, housing, health care, education, employment, immigrant rights, open space, neighborhood safety and other drivers of health outcomes, through capacity building, systems change and community engagement.

Sierra Health Foundation and The California Endowment initially committed a combined $1.1 million to seed the San Joaquin Valley health Fund to support grants for nonprofit organizations and public agencies in the Valley to improve health and well-being in their communities. Rosenberg Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Wallace H. Coulter Foundation joined the Fund as partners and funders.

Since the Fund launched in fall 2014, initial grant making totals nearly $630,000 with awards to 30 organizations serving Valley residents in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare Counties.

A powerful and growing body of evidence in the public health field suggests that individual and community health status is heavily influenced by the social and environmental conditions in which people live, learn, work and play. Unfortunately, the environment in many San Joaquin Valley towns and cities is not as healthy as it ought to be. For example:

• San Joaquin Valley counties have per capita incomes below the per capita income of Mississippi, which at $32,000 is the lowest among the 50 states.

• The San Joaquin Valley includes the two counties in California with the highest rates of linguistically isolated households, in which no person 14 years or older speaks English fluently – 14% in Merced County and 13% in Tulare County.

• The residents of some small San Joaquin Valley towns and unincorporated communities do not have safe drinking water and go to the local gas station to fill up containers with filtered water. In many areas, families spend 10% or more of their income on safe drinking water.

• Children in the San Joaquin Valley often lack safe places to play because of a lack of sidewalks, packs of stray dogs and other dangers.

• Food insecurity is widespread in the San Joaquin Valley. More than 20% of the populations in seven of the eight counties cannot afford enough food or high enough quality food to maintain a healthy life.

“As a consequence of these conditions, health disparities experienced by Valley residents can be dangerous, or even fatal. Illness and poor health caused from unsafe drinking water, lack of access to healthy foods, and poor air quality are exacerbated by unhealthy conditions, such as high rates of traffic accidents due to poorly maintained roads, poor sanitation service, few or no recreation facilities for youth and dilapidated schools. In addition, the high number of unincorporated areas and vast swathes of agricultural land separating communities makes the development of social capital to address these issues a huge challenge,” read a fact sheet on the San Joaquin Health Fund.

When looked at as a whole, it can seem overwhelming. However, good news does exist. Like those meeting in Farmersville, individuals are poised to harness the Valley’s longstanding ingenuity and resilience to bring about new opportunities and positive change, both social and economic. With positive momentum building in the San Joaquin Valley, the Center for Health Program Management and its growing list of partners believe that it is of critical importance to invest in the Valley, which is why we launched the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund.

This co-investment vehicle deploys capital into the region to strengthen and connect leaders in education, public services, community development and business. While focusing on equity and community engagement, it builds on the Valley’s assets and is being developed in partnership with residents, while drawing on cross-sectoral resources and national, state and local talent. Public and private institutions interested in making investments in the San Joaquin Valley are encouraged to join the Fund as partners to increase the resources and funding available in support of the San Joaquin Valley. By combining resources and working with local leaders and residents, together we can create positive, lasting change.

For more information on the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund visit www.shfcenter.org/sjvhealthfund.org.

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