Collaborating for Community Health in the Rio Grande Valley: Part 1
We hit the ground running in the Rio Grande Valley in early 2017 on a mission to make healthy easier for its residents by expanding and promoting our offerings to the area. Our Regional Coordinator Cindy Salazar-Collier is taking the lead to integrate our programs into the community!
“Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are notably higher in the Rio Grande Valley than in other regions of the Lone Star State,” says Cindy. “There are so many great organizations in place providing wonderful resources to promote health and wellness among this community. However, there is a need for more dissemination and promotion of these programs.” Cindy is frequently attending community events around the Valley, and her face-to-face approach is important to helping initiate change and address the concerning rates of chronic illness in the area.
Aside from its “small-town feel,” there are “big-city” resources available to the residents. The Rio Grande Valley is home to many organizations and community members who are eager to address the health crisis in the Valley. Although the resources are in place, 80 percent of the population in the Valley is considered overweight or obese, and the rate of diabetes is 20 percent higher than Texas as a whole with one in three people diagnosed as diabetic.
We are uniting with other local organizations to make healthy easier for South Texans. Cindy’s first step to integrate IT’S TIME TEXAS programming in the Rio Grande Valley is to get a better understanding of the current health landscape in this region. The goal is to assess what organizations and entities are present, what services they provide, the manner in which they work together, and the avenues by which IT’S TIME TEXAS can support existing efforts and fill identified gaps.
Cindy says, “IT’S TIME TEXAS would love nothing more than to help existing organizations further their impact on the community by integrating our programs to address any unmet needs, and by collaborating with these organizations and stakeholders to improve the health and wellness of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Our programs operate on multiple levels of the community and across multiple sectors. While many of the programs involve city officials and other city leaders, the success of the programs ultimately relies on the participation and motivation of community members within their workplaces, school districts, faith-based organizations, and other community groups.
“Our programs have proven to be successful in Central Texas, but there is an expectation that some elements of these programs will need to be adapted to fit the needs of the Rio Grande Valley,” says Cindy. “The community members’ utilization and voices will be instrumental in identifying and making those changes.”
In order to understand these existing organizations and programs, Cindy has been attending events, meeting with leaders, and making connections with people from different sectors. These efforts are leading to exciting new partnerships. Cindy is working closely with Sandra Flinn, the chair of the Harlingen Mayor’s Wellness Council and the aquatics coordinator for Harlingen CISD. Sandra and the Harlingen Mayor’s Wellness Council launched Healthy Harlingen in 2015, a collaborative designed to educate the city of Harlingen about health and wellness, after learning about the power of these collaboratives from our CEO Baker Harrell at a local workshop. Members of Healthy Harlingen provided insight that informed our Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council Toolkit.
Sandra explains, “What I find most special about IT’S TIME TEXAS is the various platforms to which the programs can be applied,” such as community members, businesses, and schools. “I feel that [IT’S TIME TEXAS] has really taken into account every avenue of reaching Texans to promote a healthy lifestyle.” Sandra plans to connect Cindy with organizations in the region that will benefit from the IT’S TIME TEXAS programs and help promote the programs to the residents.
The IT’S TIME TEXAS Community Challenge is one initiative that has seen success, with Harlingen, Pharr, and Brownsville all placing within the Top 5 in their city size categories this year! Sandra Flinn says that Harlingen was motivated by the healthy competition, and as a result, the community has become more aware of their activity levels. More than 870 Harlingen residents logged their physical activities and healthy meals through ittcommunitychallenge.com, and Harlingen CISD took home first place in the school district competition!
Harlingen’s school and community leaders as well as the press gathered at the Harlingen School of Health Professions to celebrate their school district win. Superintendent of HCISD Arturo Cavazos and others are now encouraging year-round commitment to health in the city. “These things don’t just happen because we wake up and say, ‘somebody will take care of it,’” said Superintendent Cavazos. “It happens because we have great people in leadership positions, like our school board, that continue to impress on us the importance of taking care of ourselves.” Learn more about Harlingen’s Community Challenge efforts and celebration in the Valley Morning Star.
Another developing partnership began when Elaine Hernandez, the regional director of the South Texas office for the Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative, met Cindy through the Rio Grande Valley Border Coalition. Texas Hunger Initiative’s South Texas office exists to empower residents of the Rio Grande Valley to gain equal access to healthy food through creative problem-solving and community development. With similar goals in mind, Elaine and Cindy saw an opportunity for IT’S TIME TEXAS and the Texas Hunger Initiative to collaborate. Together, we will promote programs like the Living Healthier Coach Hotline which will positively impact hunger at the county level.
The Rio Grande Valley is a unique region with higher health risks, and we want to tackle the health crisis hand-in-hand with other organizations. If you are interested in working with our Rio Grande Valley Regional Coordinator, feel free to contact Cindy Salazar-Collier at email@example.com.