Hope Collaborative is a collective of Bay Area organizations and community residents that works to help families and youth work towards healthy living in East and West Oakland. Officially, it has been around for 7 years, but the community had begun the planning process for the organization before then.
The Collaborative focuses on three major programs:
Food Systems’ goal is to create and maintain sustainable access to locally- grown healthy food for low- income communities in Oakland. The Healthy Corner Store Project works to expand existing local grocers in the community through assistance and community support.
Built Environment works with the city to promote the creation of safe spaces in Oakland neighborhoods to help the community stay active. The program has neighborhood town hall meetings, beautification projects, and a tree-planting project that plants trees throughout the community with residents and other organizations.
Through Community And Youth Engagement, youth leaders in the community participate in the implementation of change. The Youth Action Board works with the Oakland Unified School District’s Wellness Staff to provide input, with the help of students, on what to include in the school lunch programs.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mario Balcita, youth programs associate with the Collaborative. He works in partnership with East Oakland Building Healthy Communities which is working to involve East Oakland residents in the decision-making process around economic and land development, health access and youth development. He told me about his extensive background working in the community with an emphasis on youth of color.
Balcita said he has been on both sides of the youth development movement that became very important in the 1990’s and 2000’s. He started as a youth participant in San Francisco, working within various programs, and soon became a program coordinator and eventually an adult ally. He has worked in various Bay Area organizations that have specialized in youth social justice over the past 20 years, including running after- school programs and helping in- school Heath Centers In Oakland.
As someone who has grown up around low- income communities, Balcita knows the importance of having access to healthy food and safe spaces to be active. I asked him what made him want to work for the Collaborative and he said that he was very interested in being on the preventative side of healthy living. It is important to educate the community in a way that is both helpful and empowering.
I have seen him speak publicly in various community forums over the past year, and I am very grateful for his continued work as a community organizer. He is an important asset as someone whose life work is centered around social justice and healthy living. He really enjoys working with the community in a way that is beneficial and productive.
The collaborative is very important to the community for a variety of reasons. The main one is to find solutions to provide consistent access to healthy food and way of life to low- income communities of color in Oakland. Over the past few years, it has become increasing difficult to find affordable, locally- grown fruits and vegetables.
Younger generations are being socialized to become more dependent on processed food from local convenient stores and fast food restaurants. They don’t know about the potential health risks down the line from having an unhealthy diet. The collaborative empowers neighborhoods to get involved with various community gardens and people with farming experience.