It has been 25 years since nonprofit Community Health Councils first rose to the occasion.
The occasion in 1992 included a health crisis in South Los Angeles, Veronica Flores, the organization’s chief executive officer, said.
Fed up with the state of emergency that South L.A. was in, then-City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and others sprang into action to do something to change the health conditions of its residents. It led to the convening of 12 regional coalitions, one of which was Community Health Councils — the only one of the 12 still standing.
“Bringing in health access was one of the first things we did,” Flores said. “The coalitions were meant to promote policy and bring together policy makers to improve health outcomes in South L.A.”
What followed, she added, was a broader examination of what health actually meant, and they found that health is more than people getting sick and going to the doctor to get healthy.
“We began to look at the environmental impact of health. … When people say ‘you get sick because you don’t take care of yourself’ that just isn’t true,” Flores said. “People get sick because they have no access to community clinics, no access to parks, because there’s too much [medical] demand to service everyone.”
So in an effort to address some of those things the area was lacking, Community Health Councils created the Built Environment Policy area to prevent disease and support community wellness. Its primary goals are to improve South L.A.’s streets to encourage walking, biking and other forms of physical movement; implement policies that convert unused land to parks, community gardens and urban lands; reduce environmental risks and toxins; and promote investment food retail like grocery stores to increase fresh food access.
Within the Built Environment Policy is the Healthy Kids Zone. Together with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and other city departments, Community Health Councils is working to build and sustain healthy communities around L.A. schools.
Founded in 2013, Healthy Kids Zone emerged from the understanding that schools are the core of community and are places of safety, Flores said.
“We build a half-mile radius around a school and look at all policies that affect there. This helps us identify what the need is in each area, and then we train residents to make changes.”
The program will soon be implemented and evaluated at John C. Fremont High School, where residents around the campus will decide what their community needs and what they want to do to address them.
These policies and positive changes are only a fraction of what Community Health Councils has done. Through its Healthy Systems policy, the coalition helps between 8,000 to 10,000 of the most vulnerable people to sign up for health care and helps them retain it.
But because the scope of health and well-being is so broad, Flores said they are always looking to expand. In three to five years, the Community Health Councils hopes to open a hub in South L.A. that will not only bring community members together and provide resources and opportunities to them, but will also provide affordable offices that other nonprofits can rent. The hub will have a small grocery store and restaurant that will have affordable, healthy foods.
The hub, along with the environmental and health policies that Community Health Councils has implemented and are creating, are steadily pulling South L.A. out of the health crisis of 25 years past and creating generations of healthy residents and communities.
COMMUNITY HEALTH COUNCILS
CEO: Veronica Flores
Annual budget: $1.8 million
Number of employees: 15
Years in operation: 25
Location: 3731 Stocker St., Suite 201, Los Angeles, 90008