Harlem Children’s Zone Healthy Ways™ Program Launches First Site in Rice County, Minnesota
February 2, 2022
Healthy Ways champions healthy habits and lifestyles for children and families by providing educational and fun nutrition and physical activity programming
Diego Calvario Bravo hadn’t considered a career in health until his junior year at Northfield High School. That’s when he injured his knee, and the prescribed physical therapy sessions introduced him to the world of exercise science.
Bravo’s interest in a health-related career deepened at St. Olaf College, where he double-majored in kinesiology and Latin American studies. He graduated in May of 2021, and that fall, he took on a new challenge: helping young people and families from Rice County lead healthier lives as the coordinator of Healthy Ways, a signature program of the world-renowned education and poverty-fighting nonprofit organization, Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ).
After months of planning and preparation, the evidence-based program launched in January at the Greenvale Park Community School in Northfield and the Jefferson Elementary Community School in Faribault. Since 2012, HCZ has operated the program that inspired the initiative, known there as “Healthy Harlem.”
“Healthy Harlem has made a positive impact on the community in Central Harlem,” Bravo said. “They’re providing us with all the resources that we need to get it started. My job is to use those resources and make them work in our system and model.”
Healthy Ways promotes physical activity and healthy eating and aims to reduce childhood obesity by working with children and families through whole school-community approaches. For years, HCZ has been committed to scaling its innovative, place-based model to under-resourced communities across the United States. As part of that mission, and following the success of Healthy Harlem, HCZ moved to replicate its health and wellness initiative in other locations beyond Harlem. HCZ aims to establish Healthy Ways in several communities in the next year, with the sites in Northfield and Faribault being the first to launch.
Local funding for Healthy Ways was provided by Allina, and by Rice County Public Health through a competitive “Moving Health Equity to Action” grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Rice County sites were introduced to Healthy Ways by StriveTogether, a national nonprofit working to bring communities together around data to make decisions and improve results for kids. Northfield Promise is a member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color not just in Harlem, but across the country,” said Hayling Price, Senior Managing Director at Harlem Children’s Zone. “That’s why it’s so critical that we scale the impact of this program beyond Harlem. Programs that center health equity for young people are needed now more than ever.”
Price noted that nearly 20% of U.S. youth (aged 2-19 years) have obesity and another 17% are affected by overweight. Additionally, the prevalence of childhood obesity is greater in communities of color and in communities with lower incomes. Childhood obesity increases the risk for chronic diseases such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
Although Healthy Harlem focuses on improving the health of students in grades K-12, the bulk of the Healthy Ways program in Rice County will initially focus on children in grades K-5.
“It’s great to start the programming early, especially as we’ve found success generating excitement among our younger participants,” Price said. “Building on that foundation in the elementary years, we hope the effects of the program will follow the kids through middle school and high school.”
As someone who grew up in Northfield and participated in programs like TORCH, Bravo has a unique perspective on the needs and challenges faced by people in the community. He has spent the past several months getting to know children and families at the two participating schools, and connecting with local people and organizations that can play a part in the Healthy Ways program.
He said planned activities include daily physical activity and weekly nutrition lessons for children, as well as an eight-week workshop where parents and children together learn new recipes and tips for healthy eating.
“If anyone has any questions about what we’re hoping to do, or about the program itself, please reach out,” Bravo said. “I really want to talk to the families one-on-one, and say, ‘Hey, your child should come to this, it could be really useful.’”
Diego Calvario Bravo
Healthy Ways Coordinator