HKHC: Greenacres, Lake Worth, and Palm Springs, Florida

July 2014

While Palm Beach boasts sparkling white beaches, beautiful hotels and mansions of some of the rich and famous, a drive just a few miles west quickly revealed that it was no longer a tourist’s postcard world. Affluence and privilege disappeared and scenic views were replaced by compromised communities that suffered from a variety of social, economic and health disparities that included poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, and obesity. All of these were far too plentiful within the trio of cities wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Turnpike.

In the cities of Lake Worth, Greenacres and Palm Springs, the School District of Palm Beach County felt compelled to assume leadership for an initiative that would begin to address these issues. In the three cities and surrounding vicinity, where the combined population was approximately 80,000, 25 percent of residents lived below the federal poverty level and 70 percent of children received free or reduced-price school lunches. In addition, three-quarters of students spoke a language other than English at home, reflecting a decades-long surge in immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean, and forty-nine percent of local middle school children were overweight or obese.

In 2009, in response to these inequities, the school board applied for a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) grant to promote and create opportunities for active living and healthy eating for children and families outside of the school day. The project built upon the existing energy, dedication and commitment of the school board’s wellness committee and, in partnership with the Palm Beach Board of County Commissioners and the cities themselves, created a new partnership that would expand the focus beyond students and staff to create sustainable systems change that will last beyond the scope of the initial HKHC funding. Under the leadership of HKHC project director Eric Stern, and project coordinator Erica Whitfield, a community engagement strategy was designed to create a culture of wellness by leveraging the financial support and human capital of local schools, community foundations, law enforcement, health agencies and residents.

Some key accomplishments include:

Project Coordinator Erica Whitfield said, “The opportunities afforded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant have had an astounding impact on our community. The community has truly rallied around creating environments that support health and well-being. We are excited for the changes that have been made and the effect this project is having on the surrounding communities and the School District as a whole.”