Lancaster’s Holistic Approach to Healthy Neighborhoods
The City of Lancaster won the Award for Excellence in the Health and Wellness category of the 2012 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit www.helenputnam.org.
The City of Lancaster began as a small, isolated agricultural community in the 1920s. Today it’s the fifth-largest city in Los Angeles County. Located approximately 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles with an area of 94 square miles, Lancaster’s population has grown from 37,000 residents in 1977 (when it incorporated) to nearly 157,000 in 2010. By 2020 its population is expected to reach 215,500 residents.
However, Lancaster’s explosive growth, its distance from Los Angeles County government and the recent economic recession stressed the city’s infrastructure, resulting in a dearth of basic county services available in most urban communities.
The initial effort began when pastors from a local ministerial group realized that residents in certain distressed areas had neighborhood issues they were ill-equipped to address, including proper trash disposal, blight, health concerns and crime. The pastors met with city leaders to discuss how they could most effectively work together to provide much-needed community-based social and health-care services, which the city alone could not administer. The pastors also needed other collaborative partners and neighborhood facilities where they could implement their programs.
Lancaster’s leadership took a hard look at the challenge of dealing with inadequate social and economic support services as well as health disparities in certain disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The city launched the Neighborhood Impact Program, which uses neighborhood revitalization and partnerships to address health, safety and social issues.
Bringing the Community Together
The city and Pastor Chris Johnson, who also heads the Antelope Valley Christian Ministerial Alliance, approached the Lancaster-based nonprofit Antelope Valley Partners for Health to discuss a collaborative approach to tackling the neighborhoods’ health-related issues. The newly formed partnership worked together to develop a holistic approach to community health and vitality.
“The city took advantage of the economic downturn by buying foreclosed houses in distressed neighborhoods,” says Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Director Elizabeth Brubaker. “City-refurbished homes were made available to the Neighborhood Impact Partnership, which transformed them into Community Homes and Wellness Homes.”
The ministerial group, local churches, Antelope Valley Partners for Health, medical groups and other partners are now responsible for administering all day-to-day activities, providing staff and volunteers, procuring sponsorships and securing donations from local businesses and private citizens to furnish the homes.
“The Neighborhood Impact Program is about churches being involved in the community and making a difference in the lives of people,” says Pastor Johnson. According to Michelle Kiefer, executive director of Antelope Valley Partners for Health, “Each Wellness Home is a community hub that takes on a life of its own. Some neighborhoods have more seniors and therefore need more senior services, while others have a lot of children and need infant care classes. It’s an incredible program.”
Multiple Benefits for Neighborhoods
The Community Homes are safe havens offering a wide range of activities. They provide after-school programs, financial education, family counseling, tutoring, home repair classes, sports activities, block parties, recreational and cultural field trips, and a place to simply relax.
The Wellness Homes are not designed to replace hospitals, medical clinics or doctors’ offices. Each Wellness Home features a convenient, weekly range of free preventive health-care classes offering immunizations; heart, blood pressure and diabetes checks; yoga; nutrition; prenatal care; parenting; weight management; and anger management, among others — designed to fit individuals’ unique needs. To fight childhood obesity and engage youth, exercise classes feature physical activities and games using motion-sensor technology. In addition, Community Gardens promote and encourage healthy food choices.
The program has also fostered mutual respect and trust among the partners and participants, as it returns responsibility for solving local problems to the neighborhoods. Residents regularly attend city events, join Neighborhood Watch groups and participate in community cleanups.
The program now includes six Wellness Homes, nine Community Homes and four Community Gardens in different neighborhoods. This program illustrates that despite recent economic conditions, with communitywide support networks it’s possible for disadvantaged neighborhoods to thrive and promote the health and well-being of their residents.
Contact: Elizabeth Brubaker, director, Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization; phone: (661) 723-5878; email: EBrubaker@cityoflancasterca.org.
This article appears in the April 2013 issue of Western City
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