Health Isn’t Just a System, It’s a Community
Health Isn’t a Just a System, It’s a Community, is a special project of Zócalo Public Square and the California Wellness Foundation. Animation designed by Marya Villarin.

Californians Want Much More From Our Neighborhoods

We Love Our Communities but Think They Should Make Us Healthier, and Even Find Us Jobs

California is a state of large things: A 1,100-mile coastline and giant mountain ranges and big roads, bigger cities, and the biggest vistas. In such a sprawling place, with so much disconnection, how much could people care about their own little neighborhoods?

Answer: An awful lot.

This is a state of neighborhoods. And Californians are very devoted to their own. We identify ourselves as residents of neighborhoods (and even intersections) more frequently than as residents of towns and cities. We sense our own health and prospects through the places where we live. While surveys show we …


Transforming Trash Into Art

How a Riverside Taco Joint Became a Magnet for Community

I’ve lived in Riverside, and I’ve owned Tio’s Tacos here for over 25 years now. Growing up, I lived in a small town in northern Michoacán Mexico called Sahuayo. …

How Disaster Drills Soothe My Soul

What’s the Secret to a
Healthy Neighborhood?

Residents Across the Inland Empire Reflect
on What Makes a Community Work


How Disaster Drills Soothe My Soul

Helping Others Makes Me Happy, Even If It Means Lying on the Floor Covered in Fake Blood

I am an insurance broker, a wife, a mother of three kids, and the guardian for my two elderly parents. In my free time, …


Dear Government, Be Careful How You Help the Central Valley

DIY Fresno-Area Communities Need Public Support—Without Strings Attached

While Central Valley communities are creating their own solutions to stubborn problems neglected by county, state, and federal government, they also need government to offer more support for successful local efforts—without hamstringing them.

That message was conveyed by three panelists, each deeply immersed in community-based organizations, at a Zócalo Public Square/The California Wellness Foundation event at Frank’s Place at Warnors Center in downtown Fresno. …


How Body Cameras Curbed Police Use of Force in Rialto

Monitoring of Police-Community Interactions Can Improve Behavior and Ease Tension

What can the city of Rialto, in California’s San Bernardino County, teach the world’s criminal justice agencies? You might think very little given that its police department only serves 100,000 residents and has a front-line force of 54 officers. What you might not know is that the Rialto Police Department led the world in the understanding of how body-worn cameras can change policing.

In 2012, we joined with the Rialto Police Department in conducting the world’s first randomised …


To Stave Off Anxiety, "Feed the Good Wolf"

An American Indian Doctor and His Tribal Clinic Patients Use Mindfulness Meditation to Conquer Panic and Improve Health

Seven years ago, as a medical student in my first year of family residency on my emergency medicine rotation, I repeatedly experienced what I can only describe as the feeling that I was losing my mind.

While in the emergency room, my heart would pound, and my fingers, toes, and lips would get numb and tingly. I would feel like I couldn’t get oxygen, like I was about to pass out. All the while I pretended that everything was fine, and continued seeing emergency room patients and reporting to my attending physicians. …


A Hungry Child Cannot Learn

Buying Shoes, Growing Lettuce, and Treating Tooth Decay at a San Bernardino Elementary School

Eric had multiple cavities and several abscesses. His younger sister Madeline was not in much better shape.

“He has something wrong with each tooth,” the dental student said in amazement. “He has to be in constant pain.” I nodded my agreement, not really surprised by the news.

I’m the principal of Victoria Elementary School in San Bernardino, where the dental student was assessing Eric’s oral wellness as part of the annual fall screening we bring to all 500 children in our student body. In partnership with Loma Linda University’s dental school, which triages the worst cases and then follows up weekly with their mobile clinic, this program treats our students throughout the school year. For many kids, it’s the only dental care they …


I'll Take You To The ER, the Women's Shelter, or the Grocery Store. I'll Even Deliver Your Baby.

For Central Valley Rural Communities, Ride Sharing Is More Informal and More Vital, Too

Carmen Lopez lives in Huron, a town of over 6,000 people in California’s Central Valley surrounded by fields full of vegetables. There is a small health clinic in Huron, but if you need to get to the ER, dialysis, or pretty much any kind of emergency or specialty medicine, you’ll need to drive at least 20 miles and sometimes 60, each way.

Nearly a third of the households in Huron lack a car and a licensed driver. The bus to Fresno, which is 50 miles away, operates once a day and takes more than two hours each way. But Huron has a homemade fix: raiteros, a group of retired farm workers who give rides in exchange for gas money and lunch. Carmen, who retired from working in the fields …


Walking Runs in My Blood

How My Family Legacy Inspired Me to Save a Special Trail in Apple Valley

You could say that walking runs in my blood: cawellnessbug I can’t remember a time when I didn’t take long walks with my dad, though why was a mystery. …


“Simple things like eating a balanced meal can have a direct effect on your health.”


Medi-Cal and My Wary Heart

Signing up for Insurance Was the Easy Part

I come from heart attacks the way some people come from farming families. If not a proud lineage, ours is sure a vast one. It cost me both parents …


New Refinery Regulations Will Benefit Workers and Communities

Recent Accidents Have Sent Residents to the Hospital, Cost California Billions

Four years ago, Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. was the scene of an industrial disaster. An 8-inch diameter pipe carrying fuel oil ruptured, releasing a burst of flammable vapors that quickly expanded 100 meters in all directions, engulfing 19 refinery workers. Less than two minutes later, the vapor ignited into a massive fireball and a plume of smoke and toxic gases that spread over the northeastern Bay Area.

During that brief window, 18 of the workers crawled to safety through a blinding atmosphere of hot, flammable vapor. …


We Grow the Country's Carrots, but Ours Come in Bags

Kern County's Food Policy Council Tries to Confront the Unique Paradoxes of Its Food System

Kern County is home to two seemingly opposite realities.

First, it’s famous for producing food. In 2014, it grew $7.5 billion worth of grapes, almonds, milk, citrus, and beef. The county’s carrots alone were worth $288 million.

Secondly, in a national survey by the Food Research and Action Center, the county seat of Bakersfield consistently comes in as the hungriest city in America, with about a quarter of families saying they struggle to pay for food. …


How Being in Good Health Can Save Californians Money

An Economist Explains How Every Dollar Invested in California Public Health Is Worth $67

It might seem odd to try to attach a dollar value to health—like trying to quantify love or happiness. But, in fact, a recent study did attempt to measure the value of the health created or supported by California’s county public health departments. Led by UC Berkeley Health Economist Timothy Brown, the study noted that a year spent in good or excellent health instead of poor or fair health could be valued at nearly $42,000. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is part of a larger project Brown is leading to quantify how investing in public health …


More Sprawl Can’t Keep the Inland Empire Down

The Region Is Bullish on Job Growth and Civic Engagement to Combat Challenges Like Long Commutes and Low Wages

The Inland Empire is facing a boom in population growth that presents a challenge for increasingly sprawling communities. Still, the region remains optimistic and open to embracing positive change to create healthy neighborhoods.

Four panelists, each involved in different Inland Empire communities, shared their diverse perspectives on this topic at the Zócalo Public Square/The California Wellness Foundation event “Will the Inland Empire’s Sprawl Create the Community …


An Afternoon Cleaning up North Richmond, and Then—Gunfire

Fulfilling the Promise in This Neighborhood Requires Tenacity, and We Have It

It was a Friday morning in July, and Guadalupe, Maria, and Dawn were at Wild Cat Creek in north Richmond, California, clipping and tearing invasive ivy out by its roots. They were obsessed with making sure every cottonwood tree thrived and had the chance to reach its fullest potential. A few yards down there was a cottonwood tree covered with ivy all the way up to its highest branches. We couldn’t help that tree, it was doomed.

But for the rest, there was still hope and even though we planned to leave at noon, …


Helping the Child Who Got Left Behind

Rebuilding L.A.'s Foster Care System to Really Care for Kids

Neither the foster care clinic room nor my teen patient was typical. The ocean-blue walls were covered with a marine mural with a Rastafarian sea god on one wall and a blond surfer girl catching a foamy white wave on the other. Seventeen-year-old MT was obese and laden, not so much by her size but by the visible pain in her eyes. Yet she was thoughtful and good-humored, with a ready smile.

During her exam, a physical, I asked MT what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I want to be president,” she said. Surprised by her answer I said, “MT, you are too smart for such a crummy job. Why do you want to be president?” …


“It’s always great to have parks and community centers.”


The Ghosts of Mexico in Merced

My Grandfather's Disappearance Inspired My Film About the Dark Side of Immigration

I live in a forgotten region. Most Californians, if they know the Central Valley exists, forget it when they think of the state as a whole. …


The Dump Next Door

Avenal Residents Survey Each Other to Understand How the Town Dump Is Affecting Their Lives

When you’ve lived in a town for a long time, you have the idea that everyone thinks and knows the same things because we all live in the same little community. But that’s not true—some live in different parts of town; they’ve seen different things; they remember different things. In my town it took something big to lead me to this realization—a mountain of trash.

I moved to my corner house in Avenal in 2003 because it was across from the high school and the park, which had beautiful, humongous green trees. Avenal is a little town on the west side of the Central Valley, close to I-5. There’s about 9,000 residents and another 4,000 …


To Fix a “Bad” Neighborhood, Connect the Neighbors

Even If Your Community’s Got 99 Problems, Disconnectedness Is Number One

California Wellness Foundation President Judy Belk introduced a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at MOCA Grand Avenue by explaining to a large crowd why she was intrigued to hear what people who live and work in Los Angeles have to say about wellness in their neighborhoods. In a recent poll the foundation conducted of Californians, “L.A. rated their community and their wellness experience the worst in the state.”

Why is that? And what are individuals, …


I Had to Go to Finland to Imagine How to Fix Fresno

Fresno's Obsession with Self-Reliance Is Not Helping Its Drug Problems, but Its Volunteer Needle Exchange Is

I grew up Fresno, but I fled as fast as I could. With its agriculturalist roots, the local political culture was narrated through the lens of rugged individualist ideals and social conservatism. But while the social and political culture felt oppressive (especially to an existentialist queer teenager), back in 1980, the city still functioned rather well. No one went through your garbage at night and there were few empty shops, unlike the ghost strip malls that line many of the main avenues today. …


Creating a Center for Culture, Tradition—and Mental Health Care

Why Treating Mental Illness Is Crucial to the American Dream

I came to Perris, a small town in Riverside County, more than two decades ago from the island province of Bohol in the Philippines. As much as I would have loved to remain in my country, in September 1994, I immigrated to America to follow my wife Agnes. On the first day, I already missed the family and friends I left behind—I didn’t know it then, but I would eventually play a role in providing support for the Filipino community in my new home. …


Can a Bakery Betray a Whole Neighborhood?

Their Croissants Brought Pico Together but the Truth Broke Our Hearts

Neighborhoods need many things to thrive, and I’d argue prominent among them is a gathering spot for good food and coffee. Too few Los Angeles neighborhoods …


Our Neighborhoods, Ourselves

Zócalo Contributors Explore Health
On Their Home Turf


Putting Kids on the Map

A Youth Wellbeing Report Card for the State Shows California Barely Makes the Grade


You Don't Need to Go to Arizona to Find Silicon Desert

Why Riverside's Culture of Community Could Make It the Next Palo Alto

There’s a place in California far from Silicon Valley where startups are gaining ground. No, I’m not talking about the “Silicon Beach” of Santa Monica and Venice. I’m talking about the Inland Empire, home to a small but determined—and growing—community of startups. Call us the “Silicon Desert.”

While it’s true Arizona has laid claim to that moniker, I would argue that there are many reasons why the Inland Empire is, perhaps, a more natural fit. Many people don’t realize it, but we’re the 13th-largest metropolitan area in the United States. …


Why I Walk at Night in San Bernardino

Until We Stop The Violence This Will Never Be A Healthy Place

San Bernardino is often described as the second-poorest city in America and it is a violent place. It will never be a healthy place—cannot be a healthy place—until we stop the violence. The conventional approaches—heavy policing, targeting gangs—have been tried and they haven’t worked. As deaths from violent crime have fallen around the country, they have not budged here. And so we started walking.

That sounds like a trivial thing, but it’s not. We’re bringing people together to walk at night, to pray together, to talk about life—not death—and really to change the narrative of our city. It’s a message that is not about incarceration. We say, “We want people alive and free.” …


“It takes time and effort, but you need to give people a chance.”


Staying in School Isn’t Enough

Kids Also Need To Learn How to Get a Job—and How To Keep It

I’m the founder and CEO of the Youth Action Project, a San Bernardino non-profit that aims to help hundreds of youth get their homework done, learn the skills …


Merced Is My Village and It's Looking Up

Murals, Pools, and District Elections Are Changing the Place Once Known As "Merdead"

I moved to Merced in 1990 when I was 20 years old. Back then the town had 57,000 residents, the Merced Junior College, Castle Air Force base, and a sense that Merced “was a great place to raise a family.”

Merced is still a great place to raise a family because it has retained its small-town feel even while its population has grown to 90,000 people. And now we also have UC Merced and new amenities like the supermarket chains Raley’s, Costco and Smart & Final. I came back to Merced from San Diego because raising youngsters takes a village and my parents are here. Merced is my village.

Loving Merced isn’t easy for everyone. In April this year, an editorial in the Fresno Bee called us “California’s Murder Capital,” citing 93 homicides in the last four years, a per-capital murder rate twice the state average. …


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