Building Healthy Communities Initiative Underway

By Adam Ward | Mid-City CAN

Nonprofits educate the East African community on the Affordable Care Act.

Refugees from around the world work together to improve the availability of healthy, locally-grown food in their City Heights’ neighborhoods.

Projects like these in City Heights and elsewhere in the region are being funded by more than $6 million over two years in grants from The California Endowment, a private health foundation whose mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved communities.  The foundation’s grants are going to nearly 40 organizations with programs in City Heights and surrounding areas.

These grants represent the beginning of the Building Healthy Communities initiative, a $1 billion, 10-year commitment by the Endowment to improve the health of underserved areas in California.  Fourteen communities, including City Heights, have been selected to be part of the initiative.

“Where you live shouldn’t determine how long you live,” said Steve Eldred, City Heights program manager for The California Endowment. “And yet a child’s address is one of the strongest predictors of health status, longevity, and quality of life. The Building Healthy Communities initiative grants intend to make fundamental improvements in policies and the conditions in which families live to transform the health of the entire community of City Heights.”

The idea that people’s environment shapes their health is new for some. Therefore, some of the grants focus on teaching City Heights residents how transportation, land use, and related policy decisions affect the health of their community. With that understanding residents will learn how they can protect the quality of the air they breathe and become informed on walk-ability and other factors that enhance the health of their families and neighbors.

The Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (Mid-City CAN), a 22-year-old community collaborative,  plays a role in the Building Healthy Communities initiative by creating a central-table where grantees, community members and other partners can come together to make shared decisions.

“Mid-City CAN is working to create a big-picture outlook on City Heights’ future,” said Diana Ross, Mid-City CAN collaborative director.

One way the organization accomplishes this is through regular work group meetings focused around specific outcomes sought by the Building Healthy Communities initiative. Another way is by sharing decision-making and information with residents.

At the end of the 10-year process, The California Endowment and Mid-City CAN hope to change the definition of “health.” The organizations want to shift the focus from treating illnesses to highlighting prevention and safe environments that promote the well-being of the entire community.

Adam Ward is the Mid-City CAN staff writer and a former San Diego Union-Tribune editor. Adam has lived in San Diego for nearly a decade and is the father of a young son. Contact him at or (619) 283-9624 ext. 210