South Kern Sol, News Report, Randy Villegas, photos by Clara Bruno
This past weekend marked five years since the start of the Building Healthy Communities South Kern initiative. The occasion was marked by a celebration at Sunset Middle School in Weedpatch, where BHC South Kern members announced the adoption of the group’s action plan for 2016.
The plan includes a focus on such things as improving education, health and the environment for residents across the county.
BHC South Kern Hub Manager Jennifer Wood-Slayton says members will “work to employ more restorative justice programs” in area schools, and to ensure that “students have access to healthy foods and physical activity.”
Kern High School District has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates in the state, with blacks and Latinos overwhelmingly represented. Supporters of restorative justice programs, which promote disciplinary alternatives, say the approach will help address these and other imbalances while also enhancing academic engagement.
The 2016 action plan also calls for a reduction in pesticide exposure among residents, as well as work to expand access to safe, drinkable water.
“Pesticide use [and] ensuring that everyone has access to clean, safe drinkable water” will be priorities for BHC South Kern’s environment action team, says Wood-Slayton.
The anniversary also provided an occasion to celebrate some of BHC South Kern’s recent victories, including a decision by Arvin City Council to designate $400 thousand dollars for the construction of a new skatepark. Lamont residents will also be seeing new sidewalks, while students at Arvin High School will see increased access to Bakersfield College courses.
The day’s festivities included games, food, prizes, raffles, and plenty of bouncy houses and activities for kids.
South Kern is one of 14 communities across the state targeted by The California Endowment to improve community health by addressing such things as high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as low education attainment.
In South Kern, activities have focused largely around the areas of education, recreation, health access and the environment. Action teams made up of residents, school administrators, community groups, government agencies and businesses are formed around designated focus areas.
Gema Perez, 50, a mother of two says that BHC-SK has been instrumental in mobilizing residents to advocate for park improvements and encourage physical activity.
“The changes we see at the park are motivating people to come out to the park,” says Perez.
Perez started the Greenfield Walking Group nine years ago and added that BHC-SK has opened many doors the group as well.