Central San Joaquin Valley

Healthy for Life

Earlimart park space and future possibilities:

Images Courtesy Healthy for Life

The Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP) works with communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley to create healthier and safer places for people to live, learn, work and play.  In Tulare County, a primarily rural county (pop. 450,000) in the southern part of the Central San Joaquin Valley region, Healthy for Life, the local lead organization, is working with regional partners, community stakeholders and local government administrators to promote joint use as an opportunity to foster environments that encourage healthy eating and active living.

Community Need

While the Central San Joaquin Valley is known for its wide-open spaces and agricultural bounty, the neighboring communities of Pixley (pop. 2000) Earlimart (pop. 8,500), unincorporated towns in the south of Tulare County, lack sufficient park space for residents. In Earlimart there are three areas that have been appropriated by community over the years for physical activity: a very small pocket park, a walking path across school property and an open space that is used as a ‘hard bake’ soccer field. All of these spaces are dilapidated and fail to provide a safe, suitable place for families to play and be active.  With summer temperatures well over 100 degrees, dedicated indoor space for physical activity is also a necessity.  In these two communities, where funding for new park and facility development remains an issue and where children lack dedicated park space to play, school sites have emerged as a promising solution.

Joint Use as a Community Solution

Healthy for Life used community meetings and resident surveys in Pixley and Earlimart from 2007-09 to identify the green space around school sites as a potential resource for community use. Residents also suggested that gymnasia and multipurpose rooms could be opened to the public after school hours, on weekends and during the summer. Healthy for Life worked with Pixley Elementary School to develop a joint use agreement to open the gates to the green space around the school, allowing access to local residents. Unlocking of the school gates also enabled access to the school’s soccer field and basketball court after school hours. Now, in Pixley, parents and children have space to walk, jog, and relax in shaded green space. An empty classroom in the school was designated for use by a community run youth dance group. Shared use in Pixley is seen by school district decision-makers as a “win-win” situation that brought students and their families into closer contact with the school and encouraged a greater sense of community connection between the school and the families it serves.

Building from the success in Pixley, Healthy for Life pursued shared use in nearby Earlimart.  An empty, four-acre lot at Earlimart Elementary School was identified in 2009 as a promising site for a shared use park.  Healthy for Life focused on developing partnerships with the local school district to make the lot available to the community after school hours, and pursuing funding from a variety of public and private sources. Susan Elizabeth, Project Coordinator for Healthy for Life, was successful in moving the joint use partnership forward as a result of dedicated efforts to achieve buy-in from school administrators, township officials, community residents, community based organizations and the Tulare County Resource Development Agency.

Challenges and Opportunities

Working with a changing staff at both the local government and the school district levels is an ongoing challenge for advocates in Tulare County.  Developing relationships, securing and sustaining the support of administrators at the school site, district, and within the township and county government has been crucial to negotiating successful joint use agreements. Ultimately, the codification of changes and the development of new policy passed by the school district has helped to create a measure of stability and continuity for joint use efforts in Tulare over the past several years.

Additional Resources

Contact Healthy for Life / CCROPP: Susan Elizabeth skycat1941@sbcglobal.net

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