From Our Blog

Resident-centered approach grows healthy babies and local economy

Can a community market improve infant health? Can developing a local entrepreneurship culture reduce the number of babies born prematurely?

Can a community market improve infant health? Can developing a local entrepreneurship culture reduce the number of babies born prematurely?

The Life Course Theory suggests that the answer is yes. In the US, African American babies are twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared to white babies. Despite years of investment in improving access to prenatal care and high quality services, racial inequities in birth outcomes persist. The Life Course Theory proposes that exposure to healthy environments early and throughout life can increase the likelihood of healthy birth outcomes from one generation to the next.

That’s why the UC Berkeley School of Public Health launched the Best Babies Zone (BBZ) Initiative in 2012, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The BBZ Initiative works to implement Life Course Theory at the crossroads of public health  and community development  practice. Because health is shaped by where we live, work, and play, the BBZ Initiative identified three small geographic areas to implementation of BBZ’s place-based, community-driven, multi-sector approach to reducing racial inequities in birth outcomes.

A place-based approach to improving infant health

Because health is shaped by where we live, work, and play, the BBZ Initiative identified three small geographic areas to implementation of BBZ’s place-based, community-driven, multi-sector approach to reducing racial inequities in birth outcomes.

BBZ Castlemont is one of the original three Zones, located in Oakland, CA. The effort there is led by the Building Blocks for Health Equity (BB4HE) Unit at the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD). ACPHD has long valued resident leadership and vision. And the BB4HE Unit has a track record of working on cross-sector social determinants of health issues since its inception in 2009. Their work is presently sustained through funding from an anonymous donor and The San Francisco Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit program.

Oakland’s Castlemont neighborhood has a long history of resident leadership, community organizing, and local enterprising. It was also the site of early community development efforts in the 1960s and continues to be a hub of strong community organizations. These assets—paired with recognized social, economic, and health inequities—made Castlemont an ideal location for the BBZ approach.

Putting resident priorities at the center

Participants in the BBZ Castlemont-Mandela
MarketPlace Entrepreneur Program

After gathering initial concerns from zone residents through community events and forums—such as the Castlemont Community Cafés—a few social determinants of health emerged as top concerns: safety and violence; local economy; community building; and education. To turn these issues into actions, BBZ Castlemont relied on the human-centered design approach taught to them by Gobee Group.

According to Gobee Group, human-centered design—sometimes called design thinking—supports “reframing problems in order to explore underlying assumptions” and consists of three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

  1. The inspiration phase is all about building empathy for the recipients of a program or process.
  2. Ideation is a time for wild brainstorming to explore all possible solutions.
  3. Implementation encourages rapid testing to refine carrying out ideas.

BBZ Castlemont’s work is guided by these phases. Staff focuses on starting small and getting to scale over time.

Building the local economy to improve community health

BBZ Castlemont’s team began considering local economic development strategies that would build on the history of arts and entrepreneurship in East Oakland.

For existing resident entrepreneurs who needed a place to sell their goods in the Zone, the Castlemont Community Market (CCM) provides a launching pad for small businesses and a monthly, all-ages gathering space to support community building. The CCM is held on the first Saturday of the month outside Youth UpRising, a key partner in BBZ Castlemont’s collaborative work and one of Castlemont’s anchor institutions. Leadership within the CCM has evolved with a burgeoning vendors association, comprised of six vendors who either live or work in the neighborhood and create natural skin and hair care, jewelry, or clothing products.

Children from the Castlemont neighborhood
get ready for their swim lessons
as part of the East Oakland Swim Club.

A way to further build entrepreneurship capacity in the zone was a nine-week entrepreneurship training program on business development. Through a partnership with the Oakland-based Mandela MarketPlace, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, and Centro Community Partners, this program began in 2016 out of an identified need for business incubator programs for those with little to no business experience or start-up capital. Staff always seek to link direct services to upstream programs, so they recruited some participants through ACPHD’s perinatal and infant home visiting programs as well as the CCM vendor community.

Lastly, a mini-grant program provides seed-funds to residents and partner organizations to conduct community-driven projects aligning with resident priorities. An advisory body with residents, local organizations, and BBZ staff select the awardees and advise on the implementation of the projects, building the capacity of local residents to fulfill their natural role as leaders. Former projects include the East Oakland Swim Club and the Castlemont Community Play-Time. Both projects are examples of drawing on local resident knowledge to improve community well-being. Both projects are now supported by other entities, such as Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation and First 5 Alameda County, respectively.

What’s Next?

BBZ Castlemont’s approach to health equity and community development continues to be a shining example of what is possible when programs keep local residents at the center while putting the Life Course Theory into practice.

BBZ Castlemont’s approach to health equity and community development continues to be a shining example of what is possible when programs keep local residents at the center while putting the Life Course Theory into practice. Zone residents have become ACPHD staff and BBZ Castlemont staff have become leaders and advisors in the BBZ National Learning Community, providing technical assistance to a new set of three BBZs launched in January 2017. As this Zone moves into its seventh year, the staff continue to engage new community and economic development partners in the work to improve birth outcomes through addressing health across the life course.

To learn more about each of the BBZs, visit www.BestBabiesZone.org. Three new BBZs will be enrolled in a new cohort starting January 2018. To learn more, visit Start a BBZ.

Photo Credits: Header image: Credit: Anthony Notes. Caption: A vendor at the Castlemont Community Market welcomes shoppers. Image 1: Credit: Tanya Rovira-Osterwalder. Image 2: Credit: Tanya Rovira-Osterwalder.

About the Author

Megan Calpin and Jessica Luginbuhl

Megan Calpin is Program Associate at the Best Babies Zone Initiative at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She is currently developing a technical assistance center for Best Babies Zone’s maternal and child health-focused community development approach. Her work and research has focused on participatory community development, increasing youth engagement in city planning, and urban health equity. Previously, she worked as a special education teacher in Oakland. Megan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned her master’s degrees in public health and city planning from UC Berkeley.

Jessica Cullen Luginbuhl is the Manager for Building Blocks for Health Equity Unit at Alameda County Public Health Department. The Unit includes: Building Blocks Collaborative, Best Babies Zone, and Health Equity and Resource Advocates.  In order to create healthy social and economic neighborhood conditions, her work focuses on multisector collaboration, project incubation, and strategic communications. She was a Fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2007-2010 and holds an MPH in Maternal and Child Health from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, hiking in the Redwoods, and doing improv comedy.  Check out our video!