GAVA (Go Austin Vamos Austin!) is a resident-led health initiative working in Austin’s neighborhoods (78744 and 78745) with highest incidence of childhood obesity to promote family wellness, increase physical activity and improve nutrition and access to healthy food. The initiative works in different areas, called sectors, to address the key factors impacting childhood obesity: parks, schools, food service/quality/availability, out-of-school time and early childhood education.
The University of Texas School of Public Health and Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living provide support for GAVA through staffing as well as evaluations and analysis of outcomes. A team of nonprofit partners have also dedicated some of their staff members to assist the various sectors in identifying resident leaders and forming neighbor action teams.
Laura Olson, Family Support Service Coordinator for United Way for Greater Austin’s Success By 6 team, serves as the Early Childhood Sector Manager for GAVA. She works across the early childhood community to form teams made up of childcare providers and early childhood teachers, nonprofit providers serving families with young children, home daycare providers and parents of young children. Teams meet monthly to develop plans and take action toward improving the health of their families and neighborhoods.
There are many resident-led initiatives starting to come together within GAVA and the work could not be done without so many key leaders and partnerships across the communities this is taking place in. Here are only a few of the activities beginning to take shape:
- A team of providers and parents at Palomita Early Headstart Development Center dedicated themselves to participate in training for the CATCH EC curriculum and are now implementing it in four classrooms. CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) is the most proven program to prevent childhood obesity and launch kids and communities toward healthier lifestyles. This has led to plans for revitalization of their vegetable gardens and an increase in weekly physical activity and parent volunteers preparing healthy snacks to accompany lessons.
- Stay-and-Play Days at Little Dudes Learning Center: Once a month, parents plan to meet each other for dinner and playtime to have a healthy meal, encourage exercise among their kids and plan future initiatives.
- UWATX’s Play to Learn program is using “homework” to get participating families more active. The families are assigned to go to the park once a session for homework, emphasizing gross motor movements as one of the weekly lesson themes and integrating KLRU Smart Screen Time into digital literacy lessons to encourage healthy screen habits and balance with active playtime. Play to Learn graduation celebration meals will now emphasize healthier options and water rather than soda.
- GAVA is partnering with Brighter Bites to work with early educators to expand the availability of fresh produce for families. The Sustainable Food Center is offering farm stands at some GAVA-participating elementary schools and housing communities, and is offering a Double Dollar Incentive Program that allows families receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) to receive double the amount of fruits and vegetables they are normally able to receive through SNAP.
- Two home-based providers used GAVA mini-grant funds to make significant changes to increase physical activity in their programs. The Fennell family developed an outdoor space into a play yard with equipment and landscaping to increase outdoor play. Little Hands Home Daycare built a dedicated floor play area with a gate, so that instead of high chairs and bouncies their infants could have a safe space for the gross motor movement, which is so important for early brain and body development.
- Working with residents to reclaim unused green spaces for outdoor play, walking trails and sports leagues.
These are only a few of the exciting healthy initiatives taking place in the Dove Springs area as a result of the GAVA Early Childhood team efforts; stay tuned to our blog for updates on this innovative program. Thanks to the dozens of residents and collaborators who are working together to create healthier, stronger communities!