Jóvenes SANOS, a youth leadership and advocacy group in Watsonville-Pajaro Valley, prepared grassroots advocates by combining advance training and real-time opportunities for youth to advocate for equitable and culturally relevant healthy eating options in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, and the Greater Watsonville Master Bike Plan. The Jóvenes SANOS leaders influenced adults and peers to create and shape a healthy culture in their community.
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Yet these crops and resources often remain tantalizingly out of reach for the area’s 47,000 residents, many of them Latino migrant farm workers with little educational achievement, limited English, low wages and high rates of seasonal unemployment.
Although governed by separate entities, Watsonville and the unincorporated Pajaro Valley form a unified community in which residents share some public amenities and services. Residents have also shared such problems as pronounced health disparities and a lack of access to nutritious food choices and recreational facilities.
In the past, easily accessible options for healthy foods and outdoor play have been sparse. Both within and outside of the city, limited public transportation and insufficient infrastructure have contributed to high rates of injuries and deaths involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
In 2003, more than 150 diverse local agencies came together to create Go for Health! (GFH!). A countywide collaborative staffed by United Way of Santa Cruz County, GFH! works to increase opportunities for more nutritious eating and physical activity to reduce high rates of childhood overweight and obesity.
One of its biggest early successes was the creation of the Watsonville Farmers’ Market, which accepts electronic benefit transfer cards and provides on-site child fitness activities on market days. GFH! also successfully advocated for healthy eating and active living language and requirements to be included in the city’s General Plan.
Jóvenes SANOS, a 30-member youth advocacy group that operates under the GFH! umbrella, is another homegrown success. The youth are trained in leadership and advocacy skills which they use to create policies in partnership with local government. With support from Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) and other stakeholders, Jóvenes SANOS influenced the content and successful adoption of several key policies.
“They are very savvy at assessing their community and then figuring out how the community needs to change so that these kids have more opportunities, and their little brothers and sisters, and people who come after them will also have opportunities,” said Mary Lou Goeke, lead agency executive director.
“Whatever the effort or the community demographic being helped, the approach is always one of collaboration,” says Project Director Megan Joseph. “We have built relationships across different sectors with a common goal and a common vision for health in our community, and a ‘cradle-to-grave’ equity-based vision where everyone has an opportunity to access good health,” she said. “That is a very special thing about our community.”
Received national recognition through the United Way of Santa Cruz County (lead agency for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership) as one of the six inaugural 2013 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize Winners.