Health-focused group in 78745 submits action plan for approval

A local community organization is finalizing its plan to boost local health, improve access to nutritious foods and target obesity in the 78745 ZIP code.

Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin, or GAVA, held its last planning meeting July 25 before submitting its Community Action Plan to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation for financial support. The CAP outlines next steps the community aims to take, GAVA Community Programs Coordinator Alba Sereno said.

"The problem of obesity acutely affects this neighborhood, 78745, and it really does have an impact on people's quality of life and their longevity of life," she said. "The statistics in this neighborhood are that 1 in 3 children will have diabetes by the time they're adults if we don't do something, and [that statistic increases to] 1 in 2 for Hispanic children. This is crucial that we do this now and that we have a quality of access for people to healthy food and to environments where they can lead healthy lives."

GAVA, which launched earlier this year, is a partnership of residents, community leaders and nonprofit agencies, and includes a similar initiative in Dove Springs, Sereno said.

During the July 25 meeting at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission, attendees discussed final changes GAVA should make to the CAP. Discussion leader Megan Elkins, who works as the Learning Center coordinator for Foundation Communities, runs after-school programs for Foundation Communities and said she aims to promote physical activity.

"To see kids that I work with who have never played on an organized sports league [and] whose parents are not physically active, it's a huge barrier," she said. "We're trying to change the entire culture of a household where physical activity becomes as necessary as making dinner every night or brushing your teeth."

The plan features several sections with specific goals, such as ensuring students receive at least 135 minutes of physical education each week, supporting healthy improvements to school meals, and providing at least a half hour of daily physical activity during after-school programs.

A few residents said access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a problem, and GAVA should reach out to grocers to ensure quality produce ends up in stores and local food banks.

Southwest Austin resident Angela Leach said she is excited to see the plan moving forward for implementation in the 78745 ZIP code.

"It's where I grew up," she said. "My brothers and sisters still live in this neighborhood, still go to school here. It's just a way to be more active and involved in my community."

Leach noted she thinks partnering with organizations such as Viva Streets Austin, which sets up free street festivals inviting visitors to exercise, ride bicycles, play and celebrate good health, will benefit the initiative.

Attendee James Russell, who works with the mayor's physical fitness council, noted GAVA could partner with organizations including H-E-B to encourage healthy cooking demonstrations.

GAVA will submit its plan on July 31 and share results sometime in August, Sereno said.

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