Vital Sign: Checkup has CalEndow Smiling

posted Oct 24, 2013, 4:42 PM by BHC Staff   [ updated Oct 24, 2013, 4:47 PM ]
Originally printed in The Triplicate on July 14, 2012
The California Endowment is all smiles – and not just about the dental van that they funded that travels to schools to fill cavities and provide sealants to Del Norte children. 

Program Manager Laura Olson has seen this community pass policy to reshape its educa- tional system while at the same time taking steps to reduce youth violence, reverse child obesity and increase access to preventative health.

“Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands was- n’t chosen by accident,” she said. “It was cho- sen because The Endowment was looking for communities that were able and ready to work collaboratively and think creatively to make changes.”

The first evidence: Kids Town, when hun- dreds of people turned out to build a playground for kids and families long before TCE came to town.

“That was a springboard for a community figuring out what came next,” Olson said. “That gave people in DNATL, and The Endowment, hope that they could work together to make a difference.” 

TCE wants to help Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands do the creative work that leads to permanent change – the kind that outlasts a den- tal van. After searching the state, TCE picked DNATL as one of 14 members of its 10-year, multi-million dollar Building Healthy Commu- nities Initiative. As with many other rural, low income communities, DNATL has its share of poor statistics in an assortment of areas, but un- like some places, it has shown an ability to make a difference from within.

“So many different things are happening,” she said. “The dental van is something concrete that will pay off long-term for children and the community. So is creating infrastructure for salad bars in every school. But much of what we are doing is less visible: building leadership and advocacy to help people organize, under- stand how to advocate for their own needs and how to make things happen.” 

If it sounds like the equivalent of teaching someone to fish rather than serving a fish for a meal, you’re on the right track. TCE sent ele- mentary school teachers to a physical education conference and supported food service staff to learn about healthier menus for children. The in- tent was that they use what they learned to lead local efforts to reduce childhood obesity through improving youth activity and nutrition.

The Endowment provided support to the district as it begins to address high rates of ab- senteeism and expulsion. It has funded youth media advocacy work and is supporting a youth leadership academy this summer. It also helped neighborhood residents organize to expand youth recreation activities in Smith River and Sunset High School students win healthier school lunches.

“Without the Cal Endowment, some of the stuff we are doing would not have happened,” school district board member Jim Maready said.

“They’ve put a lot of thought behind what they support and we appreciate it.”

“We’re funding the work that is sometimes hard to see, but it’s the kind that will be in the community when The California Endowment is gone,” Olson said. “We want to build leadership so people are empowered to make change.

Building Healthy Communities is a 10-year initiative of The California Endowment. Del Norte and its Adjacent Tribal Lands is one of fourteen communities across the state where residents are taking action to make where they live healthier. Good health doesn’t begin in a doctor’s office; health happens in neighbor- hoods, schools and with prevention. Together we are creating a community where children are healthy, safe and ready to learn by working to decrease childhood obesity and youth violence, and increase school attendance and access to quality healthy care. For more information, please call 707-465-1238 or visit