Thursday, February 9, 2012

Change you can't afford to miss

By Jasmine Vassar for the Food Guardians

Dubbed by many as the year of universal transformation, 2012 is bringing about many changes right here in our own backyard.  From some of the newly renovated storefronts on Third Street to the many enthused residents who are upgrading to healthier lifestyles, many can’t help but notice that change is a buzz in the air. 

Opportunities at the Bayview YMCA

The local Bayview YMCA continues to promote exciting new ways to move as it nears its two-year anniversary of hosting classes of the dance workout craze, Zumba. 

Also adding to the mix, the heavily anticipated Bayview HEAL Zone project is launching this month. The HEAL Zone Project is a collaborative, Bayview Hunters Point community-based project funded by Kaiser Permanente. HEAL stands for Healthy Eating Active Living, and the goal of the project is to work with the Bayview Hunters Point community so that residents may eat better and move more in places where they live, work, learn and play.

Many residents of Bayview take on the challenge to snap into shape within the multitude of exercise programs offered at the Y. After almost two and a half years at the Y, Zumba has come along way. 

“[At first], people couldn’t get through the first 15 minutes,” instructor Gigi Hill-Hopkins  reminisced. “Now people are finishing and going beyond.” 

Zumba offers a high energy and motivating workout with influences from Latin, African, hip-hop rhythms synchronized with fun and easy-to-follow Latin dance moves. It has been so popular with residents that they get more than 100 people to attend their Thursday evening and Saturday morning classes. Until recently, these classes have been offered completely free of charge, but lately the Y started charging $5 for non-members.

Besides all of the enjoyment of the movement, there have been real health improvements. 

Ms. Hill-Hopkins said, “Many of my students have told me success stories of how their diabetes is now under control, or that their cholesterol is now normal.” 

One participant, Barbara, 65, said, “Come out and try it!” She doesn’t let anything stop her from working out six days a week, not even her bad knee.  “We got to keep on moving, and it’s a great way to meet other women your own age.”

Barriers to "health in motion"

Other residents are facing some huge barriers from getting their health in motion. For some, memberships at the YMCA, 3rd Street Boxing Gym, and other local fitness programs can be unaffordable.  For those who want to exercise outside, pollutants emitted from trucks and the sewage treatment plant, and garbage strewn throughout the streets can aggravate health problems ... as evidenced by the high rates of asthma in Bayview Hunters Point. Other residents stay in their homes in certain parts of the neighborhood due to fear of violence. 

When adding up these factors - lack of finances, unhealthy air, limited access to certain parts of the neighborhood - many people may ask themselves “What real choices do I have to get healthy?” 

Motivation to try new things can be smothered by others as well.  Some look to peers for encouragement, but instead get judgment. Some believe that living a healthy life is a privilege for people who have great means, rather than a right that everyone should have opportunity to access. 

There is healthy-living assistance from community programs for those ready to get involved and create partnerships that go against oppressive forces.  Personal challenges are unique for the residents here, but the collective drive to transform the Bayview for the better is emerging in this sunny sector of SF. Gathering together with families creates an open safe space for these relationships to blossom.

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