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Widespread Drop in Obesity Seen Among Low-Income Pre-Schoolers

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a small but significant decline in childhood obesity in 19 states and territories among low-income pre-school students. Many hailed the news as a promising sign that childhood obesity has reached its peak and may now begin to decline nationwide. It may also be a promising sign that some programs aimed at reducing childhood obesity and increasing access to healthy food and physical activity might be working.
It is especially good news that the decline was seen among lower-income children, often the group most likely to face the dual problem of food insecurity and obesity. Increasing access to healthier food in schools, more fresh fruits and vegetables in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and better education about health, obesity, and nutrition all seem to be having an impact. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has numerous programs aimed at improving health and food quality for school children and lower-income families, such as the Farm to School grant program and the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Some also partially attribute the declining obesity rate to an increase in breastfeeding.
Although the overall decline in childhood obesity is small, it is widespread; and there are parallels in how every community can begin to improve children’s health locally—by making small changes and taking it step-by-step. All communities need access to healthy food options and fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as opportunities to walk or bike to school and work, and education about food choices, physical activity, and health. Someone’s income or neighborhood should not determine their access to healthy food, quality medical care, or a healthy lifestyle. This exciting news from the CDC suggests that we may be beginning to move in the right direction.
UNCA member organization the Neighborhood House Association (NHA) in San Diego has won national recognition by Let’s Move! Child Care, and First Lady Michelle Obama for their Healthy, Fit, and Happy Head Start nutrition program. The nutrition program provides daily meals to over 2,000 low-income children in the Head Start program and eliminates processed and pre-packaged foods through the inclusion of local, fresh, natural, and organic foods. NHA has also developed a Farm to Preschool partnership, and has created a city-wide Let’s Move Head Start Olympics. The State of California has also recognized NHA  through the Healthy, Fit and Happy in the New Year program. Damon Carson, NHA Vice President of Children Youth and Family Services, welcomed the CDC findings:
“Neighborhood House Association (NHA) celebrates the results of the recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report demonstrating a national reduction of childhood obesity rates among low income families.
As operators of a large Head Start program, we are proud of building a wellness program that is helping underserved communities improve their quality of life.
NHA looks forward to continue making a difference in reducing childhood obesity and supporting children and families in creating a healthier future.”

August Recess is the Perfect Time to Impact Policy

Congress is out of session until September 9, but that doesn’t mean the work stops! While Senators and Congressmen and women are back stumping in their home districts is the perfect time to have an impact. The joint Public Policy Office of UNCA and the Alliance for Children & Families has created an August Recess Toolkit with tips and advice on contacting your Congressional representatives, organizing a site visit, and communicating the issues most important to you and your organization.
We urge non-profit professionals, UNCA and Alliance members, and community volunteers to contact their representatives and share their stories during the August recess. It’s a great opportunity to share your policy concerns, your community’s needs, and educate lawmakers about the serious issues facing their districts. It’s also a great chance to raise the profile of your organization. Inviting your Congressional representatives to tour your agency can create press opportunities and otherwise increase community awareness about all the great work that you do.
The August Recess Toolkit contains information on how to contact your members and arrange a site visit, drafting leave-behind materials to educate your lawmakers, and sample questions to ask while speaking with your representative or a member of his or her staff. It is very important that your representatives are aware of the work you are doing, so please take full advantage of their time in their districts this month!


Community Development, Entrepreneurship, and the Freelance Economy

Community development and economic development are often two sides of the same coin. Commercial and business development rarely flow into distressed communities. Likewise, communities can rarely overcome such intractable problems without an injection of economic resources. Attracting new business and creating jobs is often the first goal of any neighborhood revitalization plan. Encouraging big-name brands and corporations to move to your community may create jobs and improve the economy, but many profits are redirected to an HQ many miles away rather than being reinvested in the local community.
A new movement might be changing that, though, encouraging peer-to-peer economic exchange and a do-it-yourself mentality. A recent article from the Freelancers’ Union (an organization that promotes “new mutualism,” a “movement that relies on sustainable, community-driven solutions to solve seemingly intractable problems”) describes several municipalities that have specifically sought to cultivate independent businesses and entrepreneurship. Each successful city promoted small business ownership, sustainability, and buy-local initiatives. Each community also embraced its own uniqueness and leveraged individual strengths, rather than seeking to apply a template from another community. UNCA member agency The John H. Boner Community Center is doing just this type of resident centered engagement with its community development efforts on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis.
A similar article that appeared recently in The Atlantic describes Portland, Oregon’s,   individualized, entrepreneurial strategy. Of course, “be like Portland” is not an effective economic development strategy. The article states that many economically successful communities “seem to be rediscovering what makes them special, the distinctiveness of what they make or provide and sell to the world, rather than what makes them the same.”
The DIY mentality is taking root in the form of municipal policy in communities large and small across the country. One example is UNCA member Bridge Rockford Alliance in Rockford, Illinois, which has invested in “the Etsy economy” (so-called because of the peer-to-peer marketplace Etsy.com). At its heart, the initiative encourages residents to learn to make things, and to understand the basics of managing a business. It also encourages locals to buy local, engaging in economic interaction directly with the manufacturer rather than distant corporations and layers of middlemen, thus reinvesting the money directly in the community.
The federal government has long promoted the ideal of “Main Street” as both the economic and cultural heart of communities. Marking another step forward, Karen G. Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, announced at the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference that the SBA will waive fees on loans under $150,000. Ideally, policies such as these will encourage economic growth that leverages the unique skills of communities and reinvests the money locally. With these kinds of resources, neighborhoods can helm their own revitalization, bringing services, jobs, goods, and sustainable development to the local level.

Guest Blogger: INPEACE’s Keiki Steps Teaches Parent Empowerment

The following is a guest blog post from Kanoe Naone, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE), an UNCA member organization based in Honolulu, Hawaii. INPEACE works to educate and empower Native Hawaiian communities. Since 1994, INPEACE has emerged as a local and international leader in early childhood education, workforce development and cultural land stewardship. Read more about their innovative parent engagement model below!

It seems that recently everywhere I go; I hear about parent engagement.  A few years ago I was at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts when the concept of parent engagement was raised. My contribution to the conversation was that parent engagement as defined by the group was not sufficient to change outcomes in education in economically disadvantaged communities, that it had a distinctly middle and upper class application and appeal. Instead we need parent empowerment. We need parents who are empowered to be advocates for their children and those in their community.

At the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE) our Keiki Steps parent participation preschool program for families with children ages birth to five; is more than a parent engagement model, instead it is a parent empowerment model. Watch the video!


Located in socially and economically disadvantaged communities across the state of Hawaii, parents come each day with their child to preschool for three hours. Instead of leaving them at the door, they sit side by side with them learning and teaching.  The Site Coordinators and Aides are facilitators of learning whose primary function is to show the parents how to do an activity of the day and share with them what the children are learning while doing the activity.  Story time, outdoor learning including planting, cultivating, harvesting and cooking, music, dance, painting, and everything else you would see in a high quality preschool are all some examples of activities at Keiki Steps. The parent/caregiver replicates what they learn from the teachers with their child. In the process, parents learn about how children learn and optimal strategies for ensuring both the child and parent are ready for school.

We often hear the analogy of teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime instead of a day.  I see our Keiki Steps preschool as an example of teaching parents to fish instead of giving them a fish which can happen when they drop their child off at a preschool to be taught.  By the time the children in our program move on to kindergarten, our parents and caregivers are so acclimated to being fully engaged in the well-being and education of their child, they not only continue to participate in their child’s K-12 experience, they demand it.

(Disclaimer: I do support center-based preschools when centers engage authentically with families and see it as a necessary option for many families. Over the years my husband and I have utilized center based preschools, parent participation preschools, family child care and home-visiting programs with our four children.)

Upcoming Webinar: Nashville’s Community Engaged Research

Nashville Promise Neighborhood will release the results of their recent community survey, as well as explain their innovative survey model, in a webinar on Thursday, May 16th from 4-5:30 p.m. ET. Nashville Promise Neighborhood, along with their data partner, Vanderbilt University, completed 485 door-to-door surveys in three Nashville census tracts in just three weekends with the help of graduate students, AmeriCorps volunteers, and agency staff. Learn about their survey design and execution, and how you can implement similar “community engaged research” in your own community needs assessments. This webinar is open to any individual or organization interested in learning about community surveys. Participants will learn more about: community engaged research, sampling strategies that can inform your needs assessment, rapid data collection tools, and models for successful academic and community collaboration. Such well-designed surveys are vital to measuring the impact of any neighborhood development initiative. In 2011, Nashville was one of 20 communities to win a Department of Education Promise Neighborhood grant. The Promise Neighborhoods program aims to target specific challenges faced by high-poverty communities across the country by providing resources to plan and implement “cradle to career” services. Plans are holistic and include improving a neighborhood’s health and safety, expanding access to technology and Internet connectivity, and boosting family engagement in schools. Nashville Promise Neighborhood has brought together government organizations, non-profits (including UNCA member the Martha O’Bryan Center), schools, universities and neighbors to create a zone of “effective cradle-to-career continuum of services” for over 6,000 children and families in the “Stratford cluster” neighborhood in Nashville. Register for the webinar to learn more about how they are measuring the impact of their work.


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by Dr. Radut