2019 Grants Challenge

Youth Organizing for Better Health in Pico-Union

National Health Foundation is building a youth organizing base in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. In partnership with West Adams Preparatory High School, NHF will engage students in researching barriers to healthy lifestyles in their community and implementing real changes that have lasting impacts. Woodbury University will support this project by developing a mobile application with an interactive map/database of community resources that youth identify through their research.


Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

Woodbury University

West Adams Preparatory School

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

In 2017 NHF attend the 9th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. The theme was “Good Health for All: Addressing Equity Where We Live, Learn, Work and Play” and it boasted nation-wide attendance. Among the lineup of speakers who were there to share emerging research, best practices, community-based efforts and policy strategies was Jessica Gallegos, an alumna of NHF’s Health Academy program. She was invited to speak in a plenary entitled, “Leading the Way: Youth Advocating and Driving Policy, Systems and Environmental Change.”

It had been almost a year since Jessica graduated from Thomas Jefferson Senior High and started her freshman year as a biochemistry major at UCLA. But for her presentation she recalled all the good work done through her Health Academy experience. During her time in Health Academy, Jessica and her peers played an integral role in getting a hydration station installed at her school and establishing a wayfinding signage system at a major corridor in her neighborhood to promote walking. She often took the lead on presenting youth-led efforts to key stakeholders in her school and community.

A nineteen-year-old Latina from South Central Los Angeles was sharing her story, and hundreds of public health professionals were listening. Jessica noticed this as she stood at the podium, “I felt tense going on stage and seeing my name card being placed on the panelists’ table because I didn’t think I was a person others would care to listen to and let alone take notes from… but they did. Once I started speaking I saw many people nodding their heads in agreement and even taking pictures of my presentation — of MY experience.”

NHF has youth just like Jessica, who, even a year after Health Academy, are still passionate about giving back to her community. Jessica said, “I’ve thought about the public health field for a while and coming to this conference is making me consider it even more. I realized that the doctor I once wished to be is the last visit a person would want to — or should — make. The real difference happens way before that. It’s in where we live and what’s around us. It’s a reality my community knows too well.”

Which of the LIVE metrics will your submission impact?​​

Access to healthy food

Obesity rates

Resilient communities

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?​

Central LA


How will your project make LA the best place to LIVE?

Health Academy is National Health Foundation’s youth organizing program that engages young people in identifying systemic and environmental barriers to healthy living in their community, envisioning practical solutions to those problems, and implementing change campaigns that have community-wide impact.

For LA2050, National Health Foundation is proposing to expand Health Academy to West Adams Preparatory High School (West Adams), thereby activating a cohort of young people to advocate for healthier communities, and developing the next generation of public health and civic leaders. Building on Health Academy’s six years of success in two South Los Angeles high schools (Thomas Jefferson Senior High and Santee Education Complex), NHF is prepared to reach additional communities and empower a new cohort of community youth leaders.

NHF’s youth organizing approach is rooted in youth participatory action research (YPAR), a collaborative effort that equitably involves youth residents from a target community as stakeholders and decision-makers in all aspects of system change campaigns to improve community health. In YPAR, participants are regarded as the experts of their community who not only live through the barriers to good health and well-being in their day-to-day lives, but are also the best informants on identifying possible solutions to these challenges. In this process, youth lead the entire project: from formative research, development, implementation, all the way to evaluation. Often, the solutions that come to fruition during this process are ones that address health issues closer to the root cause, and involve policy and systems change that produce lasting and sustainable impacts.

In partnership with West Adams, NHF will integrate ‘Adult Allies’ (trained staff members) into the school to facilitate the Health Academy program. Adult Allies will recruit and train youth in key public health concepts, community research and organizing, and assist youth throughout the YPAR process through curriculum-based weekly training meetings. By the end of one school year, Adult Allies will have trained and supported youth organizers to identify and develop at least one system change campaign to address health inequities and the social determinants of health in Pico-Union, Los Angeles. These projects often focus on access to healthy foods or improving the built environment.

To further support this effort, Woodbury University will redesign their mobile application “Hear Our Local Legacy App,” originally created for Walk Watts, to include an interactive map/database of Pico-Union community resources that youth identify through their research.

In what stage of innovation is this project?​

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

NHF tracks youth organizing outcomes and impacts on two different levels: impacts on the community and impacts on the youth organizers themselves. NHF’s youth organizers focus on creating policy, system, and environmental (PSE) changes that create communities that are more supportive of healthier lifestyles. Evaluation of PSE changes vary in scope and range from assessing change in knowledge, behavior, and/or organizational practices. As for assessing progress and impact on youth organizers, NHF tracks academic performance through graduation rates and college admittance. NHF regularly collects testimonials on how organizing work has impacted youths’ view on community involvement, their plans for future civic engagement, and career and college goals.