In 2012, Dr. Aliya Hussaini, a pediatrician at People's Community Clinic grew frustrated with the number of low-income children of color visiting the clinic who were experiencing obesity and diabetes already in their young lives.
As the Healthy Living Program officer for Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Dr. Hussaini knew that her single touchpoint with her patients would not create substantial behavior change. She also knew that many of these children lived in neighborhoods qualified as food and play deserts, and that many of their families faced issues of food insecurity. Therefore, no matter how many times she told her patients to eat healthy and exercise regularly, their systemic lack of access to healthy food and physical activity would hinder their ability to follow that advice.
Dr. Hussaini decided to fund an upstream, community-led health intervention to address the systemic health inequities faced by lower-income families. She catalyzed foundation funding to support a 5-year pilot project to address childhood obesity and diabetes by taking a wide-angle, preventative approach. After evaluating nutrition and activity assets, community engagement, and resident health data in several communities across the nation, the Foundation decided to fund this pilot program in its own backyard. Community leaders from Dove Springs (Southeast Austin zip code 78744) were already active in their community, working to improve overall quality of life. Community surveys among the general population showed that residents were eager to lead healthier lifestyles and to assume leadership in creating change. In addition, there were a number of existing organizations with close ties to the community that provides relevant resources and strengths. The coalition and evaluation officially launched in 2012 to engage the community in efforts to increase access to healthy food and physical activity assets to eventually decrease rates of childhood obesity and diabetes in the area.
Within a year, GAVA expanded to include the neighboring 78745 zip code to test the project’s replicability in neighborhoods with different characteristics. The coalition expanded to include more organizational partners, each housing a piece of the broad-spectrum work depending on their organizational scope and expertise. The partners were all funded separately by the Foundation until 2015, when the Foundation encouraged them to submit a joint application under one fiscal house at Marathon Kids, Inc.