How a Loyola Initiative Is Spreading Health in Proviso Right Under Your Nose

Friday, September 15, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Attendee’s at the Sept. 9 Voices at the Table event, sponsored by PP4H, get active with dance. | Michael Romain/VFP

On Sept. 9, a few hundred people circulated in and out of the playground of Lexington Elementary School, 415 Lexington St. in Maywood. The school closed in 2015, which made the site of last Saturday’s festivities — what the host organization, Proviso Partners for Health, called Voices at the Table — particularly ironic, like a rose blooming from concrete.

Formed in 2014 under the leadership of Lena Hatchett — an assistant professor and administrator at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine — PP4H is a coalition of local community groups and institutions that have united to fight against childhood obesity in the western suburbs, particularly Maywood.

Partners include Stritch, Loyola University Health System, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action, Proviso East High School and the Quinn Community Center, among others.

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Attendee’s at the Sept. 9 Voices at the Table event, sponsored by PP4H, get active with dance. | Michael Romain/VFP

And their collective impact, in just a few years, has literally changed the landscape of Maywood and surrounding suburbs in ways that most residents may not know. At Saturday’s event, many of the people and groups who have been driving those changes were out on full display.

“We realized that there are a lot of initiatives in Maywood and we have community members who are part of PP4H, but we still don’t always know how the community feels about things,” said Shanika Blanton, a PP4H member who organized Voices at the Table along with Gabriel Lira, the director of the Quinn Community Center in Maywood.

“There’s so much good happening in Maywood, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have an event that allows us to get the voice of the community? And then, if people are interested in something going forward, we’ll have the information for them so that it’s not just a one-day event.”

There were at least a dozen different community organizations and entities represented at various tables spread along the playground’s perimeter — each table symbolic of some milestone that has been achieved since PP4H’s 2014 founding and, particularly, since the organization received a $2.5 million grant from Trinity Health.

At one table stood Chris Epps, a full-time gardener whose position is funded through the Trinity grant. This year, Epps has grown somewhere around 4,000 pounds of organic produce on a plot the size of a typical backyard that’s located on Madison St. in Maywood, across from Proviso East High School and adjacent ReUse Depot — also a PP4H affiliate.

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Voices at the Table featured free food, music and performances by musical acts and dancers. | Michael Romain/VFP

The Proviso Giving Garden, as PP4H has called it, could be the first of its kind in Proviso. Epps said he has a goal to plant at least a dozen more in surrounding suburbs, including Bellwood and Broadview. Already, he and his colleagues have secured deals to sell the produce to small grocery stores in Maywood, Forest Park and Oak Park.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to make the garden financially sustainable after the grant money runs out,” said PP4H member Loretta Brown, who is also a member of Maywood’s Environmental and Beautification Commission.

Through Brown and other members of the commission, PP4H was influential in planning what has become the single largest single day cleanup event in Maywood — Village Pride, Village Wide — which attracts volunteers from in and out of the village to dedicate a few hours on a day in April to beautifying and cleaning up various areas in town.

Just a few tables away from Epps and Brown, Lesli Vaughn, of the Respiratory Health Association, stood ready to explain her roughly year-long effort, in partnership with PP4H, to raise the minimum tobacco age from 18 to 21 in Maywood. In May, the Maywood Board of Trustees voted unanimously on the measure.

“Now, we’re focusing on Bellwood,” Vaughn said. “The goal, ultimately, is to get a similar ordinance passed in Bellwood and Melrose Park.”

A few tables to the south of Vaughn, Sue Flanagan, a retired District 89 administrator, and Ann Andreoni, a nursing professor at Loyola, spoke about their efforts to get students in the district more active.

The two women co-chair PP4H’s education health committee, which was influential in forging a partnership between Proviso East High School and the West Cook YMCA, based in Oak Park, that resulted in a 5-week Red Cross lifeguard and training certification program.

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Sue Flanagan, second from left, and Ann Andreoni, far left, during PP4H’s Voices at the Table event, held on Sept. 9 in Maywood. | Michael Romain/VFP

At least a dozen Proviso East students went through the training, with six of them securing lifeguard jobs at Fred Hampton Aquatics Center in Maywood. The program was also the catalyst for Proviso East opening a swimming pool that had not been in use for years, putting the school in the position to start offering swimming classes again in the coming years.

Flanagan said that PP4H has also spurred some changes at D89, including playground improvements and the implementation of healthy curriculum throughout the district.

“The goal for us is to provide the community what it wants in terms of health,” said Andreoni. “What do community members think we need to do to make the community healthier?”

A few tables to the north of Andreoni and Flanagan, Sandra Gates and Carolyn Johnson sat ready to explain their Adopt A Park program. The two women are members of PP4H’s built environment subcommittee and are looking to get residents involved in their attempts to revive Maywood’s parks.

“We’re trying to get people more active,” Johnson said. “A lot of the young people aren’t healthy. We want them to start utilizing our parks.”

Part of that process, Johnson explained, is a plan to conduct audits of all the parks in Maywood in order to evaluate a range of factors such as safety and cleanliness that may be keeping residents from visiting them.

Ultimately, the women said, they hope to persuade the village board to pass an Adopt A Park ordinance, which they hope will lead to increased outdoor activity among area young people. Johnson said her subcommittee meets every second Wednesday of the month, 4 p.m., at the Quinn Community Center in Maywood.

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Sandra Gates and Carolyn Johnson during PP4H’s Sept. 9 Voices at the Table event. | Michael Romain/VFP

And that’s no minor goal, according to Mary Crisostomo, a clinical director and pediatric nurse practitioner for the Pediatric Obesity Clinic at Loyola. The collective efforts of PP4H and its numerous partners could mean the difference between sickness and health for a lot of young people in Maywood and other suburbs in Proviso Township.

“One out of every two sixth-graders in District 89 is overweight or obese,” Crisostomo said. “The national average is one out of three. That’s important, because it’s not about how you look. It’s about liver disease and high cholesterol — things that I treat in my clinic that these kids already have because of unhealthy weight. I have eight-year-olds from this community with liver disease.” VFP 

F E A T U R E D  E V E N T

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