ANAHEIM – Patty Cruz has already seen the difference in herself and her children.
After two years of volunteering with Padres En Accion, the 30-year-old Anaheim resident said she’s lost 60 pounds and both of her children, 8 and 9 years old, are eating healthier and enjoy hiking.
“We changed our habit,” Cruz said after finishing a volunteering shift with students at Lincoln Elementary School. “I felt more motivated and involved.”
Padres en Accion, or Parents in Action, is one of the many volunteer-run groups that began three years ago with the help of a $1 million grant from Kaiser Permanente to the Anaheim Family YMCA. The YMCA used the money to start its own version of Kaiser’s Healthy Eating Active Living, or HEAL, initiative.
This month, Kaiser officials presented the Anaheim Family YMCA with another $1 million grant to continue its work with underserved communities.
“What we are seeing across this nation is that the greatest impact on people’s health comes through community-based solutions,” said John Guastaferro, vice president of development at the Anaheim Family YMCA. “Through HEAL, we are working to make healthy eating and active living part of daily life.”
Anaheim has one of the largest percentage of residents living in poverty in Orange County, according the 2015 Orange County Community Indicators report. The Anaheim and Santa Ana school districts have the highest proportion of overweight youths, the report said.
By starting the program early with parents and students at elementary schools and in neighborhoods, the Anaheim Family YMCA, along with its coalition of partners, hopes to stem and prevent diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that often plague minority and underserved communities.
With the $1 million grant received in 2012, the Anaheim HEAL Zone has helped build a new playground at Lincoln Park, create programs such as Higher Ground, which engages kids and teens in healthy activities, hold in-school classroom activities and, with Padres en Accion, get volunteer parents to lead structured recesses.
At last week’s check ceremony, “Uptown Funk” played as a volunteer parent taught kids how to dance. Another parent was teaching kids how to play basketball, and in a grassy area, children jumping in potato sacks were racing each other.
“We saw the last three years that residents began to get involved and started making healthier choices,” said Cheryl Vargo, community benefit manager at Kaiser Permanente Orange County. “It’s part of our social mission to bring up the health of the community.”
Volunteering with Padres en Accion, an initiative run by the nonprofit Kid Healthy Orange County, has made a significant difference in her life, Cruz said.
By helping three times a week she has stayed close with her kids. Following a nutritional guide and doing the physical activities with her family, she has shed weight.
“I’m originally from Mexico and we eat a lot of tortillas and sweet bread and some other food not really good for you,” Cruz said. “We trained our mind and body to get away from those kinds of food or limit it.”
Cruz said her mood has changed and the change in lifestyle has motivated her to become a fitness instructor. She hopes to one day start a fitness boot camp.
“She’s an example of someone who got involved,” Guastaferro said, “and inspired her and her family to get healthier as a result.”