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Kayla Hatchell | Class of ’15 | April 21, 2015

“TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More”. This is one of Kelvin William’s favorite sayings. Kelvin, also known as the Urban Farmer, has a close relationship with CAN DO Houston, the organization I work with through the Community Bridges Program. He provides produce and inspiration for many through CAN DO Houston’s program, and his saying exemplifies the mindset of the non-profit as it works to eliminate childhood obesity in Houston. I have seen this mindset in action throughout my internship, and I have learned a lot about building capacity in communities through collaboration.

CAN DO Houston, which stands for Children and Neighbors Defeat Obesity, works to prevent and reduce childhood obesity in Houston. The organization has multiple approaches, mostly focused on increasing access to fresh and healthy foods. A number of Houston neighborhoods are food deserts, areas where there are little or no fresh foods available to community members. CAN DO Houston assesses needs in communities and partners with existing organizations and community groups to find solutions together.

Sunnyside and Pasadena are two Houston communities that CAN DO Houston supports. These communities host the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which provides produce for sale in corner stores where many community members purchase food. While Kelvin supplies the produce and CAN DO Houston interns take inventories and collect surveys, the store managers are charged with publicizing the produce to their customers. While the hope is that storeowners will sustain the initiative in the future, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative is currently a collaboration based on meeting nutritional needs in the communities.

This semester I have seen partnerships in action through the Independence Heights food fair in that CAN DO Houston supports. The food fair is a collaborative event of the Independence Heights Collaborative Action Coalition (IHCAC), Yale Street Baptist Church, and CAN DO Houston. Twice a month, volunteers from each group spend an hour unpacking a food shipment from the Houston Food Bank before distributing boxes of produce to community members in need of food. No matter the number of volunteers or the weather (it was pouring rain one week!) the group is cheerful and productive. I remember one week when we joked about the boxes after boxes of corn that we unpacked. The fairs serve over 200 families a month who may otherwise have difficulty acquiring produce. Besides seeing the impact that the food fairs have on the community, I loved seeing such great collaboration between organizations in the community. IHCAC, Yale Street Baptist Church, the Houston Food Bank, and CAN DO Houston are all working together to address a need in Independence Heights, with each organization mobilizing its members. It has been amazing to see action and change coming from within the community.

Through my internship at CAN DO Houston, I have learned about how an organization can tailor solutions to individual neighborhoods and develop partnerships in order to overcome complicated social issues like obesity. In the words of the executive director Dr. Jasmine Opusunju, CAN DO Houston aims to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” for Houstonians. While there is an overwhelming amount of work to do to achieve this ideal, CAN DO Houston is working steadily towards this goal and bringing like-minded groups alongside to truly achieve more.