This month, Earth Force received funding to engage young people in addressing health equity issues in their communities. We are very excited about working with some new (and old) partners to provide a platform and opportunity for young people to explore and address issues through this lens, with support from Earth Force’s Health Equity & Service-Learning Toolkit.
At Earth Force, we have long reinforced that environment is about place – where we live, work, play, and go to school. Especially in our cities, the natural and the built environments shape the quality of life and health of our communities. And, while young people’s projects might be for the benefit of the “environment,” they are often about improving the environment for the benefit of people. Enter this opportunity to call out health equity…
We have bolstered our work and understanding of health by talking to researchers and adopting a perspective that looks at the social and environmental determinants of health. One study talks about how zip codes can serve as indicators of health because the social and physical conditions of our communities play right into our individual health status. A community without access to a grocery store, close to highways and industry, with few parks, and that is challenging to navigate by foot, makes it a lot harder to lead a lifestyle of healthy eating and active living.
And, we have young people to credit for helping us embrace this focus. Young people have been telling us for years that these issues matter deeply to them.
My first year at Earth Force, we had young people working on improving drinking water quality in their neighborhood. And, every year since then we have had young people identify issues that directly impact their health and that of their community — be it advocating for more fresh fruits and vegetables in their school lunches, starting community gardens, or building walking maps of their community to encourage mapping bike and walk routes to their schools.
So what is our opportunity now? We have provided some great assessment tools for young people to explore their communities around five different areas: transportation, food access, indoor air quality, access to recreation, and a clean and safe environment. We have built a framework for educators to help young people see these issues as part of the whole picture of what makes their community a great place to live. We will provide exemplary professional development and evaluation tools for adults to make space for young people’s exploration of these issues within their community. And then, we get out of the way and support them as they bring their passion, energy, and hope to bear on these issues. I am confident we will be sharing some wonderful stories in the near future!
What health equity issues do you see in your community? Are youth engaged in addressing them? Tell us!