2019 All-America City Finalist – Ontario, CA

Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:

The city of Ontario has just over 170,000 residents, about 72% of whom are Hispanic or Latino. With many documented health disparities, the city has worked for years to improve the health of all residents, launching Healthy Ontario in 2006 and many subsequent initiatives.

Healthy Ontario has conducted many rounds of community input over the years, including the use of a “network weaver,” an individual contracted through Social Impact Artists to regularly interact with residents and other stakeholders. Also included are monthly community meetings to gather input on health-related matters and “health hubs” where people can go to share ideas and needs. Healthy Ontario has leveraged over $35 million in funding to support its initiatives.

Three project examples showing how this community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues:


1.) Safe and Complete Neighborhoods (Building Equity, Opportunity and Leadership in the HEAL Zone Neighborhood)

Healthy Ontario identified the HEAL (healthy eating, acting and living) neighborhood in 2011 as one of the lowest-income and neediest neighborhoods in Ontario, securing Kaiser Permanente funding over the years to help implement a resident-based effort. One of the sources of input during the planning process was called Photovoice, an opportunity for residents to research and discuss potentially hidden and underlying issues in the neighborhood.

One of the results of this effort was the creation of Health Hubs, places where residents naturally congregate and where people and providers can informally discuss issues facing the neighborhood, including through community forums. Also formed was a Neighborhood Leadership Academy and other training programs designed to help residents develop problem-solving skills and conduct their own needs assessments.

Other programs conducted in the HEAL Zone neighborhood include a “promotores” worker initiative that trained local residents to serve as community health outreach workers, Zumba classes, a community garden with over 60 plots and a community market, and healthy meals for students provided through the health hubs and library.


2.) Prevention & Wellness; Healthcare Access & Utilization (BUILDing a strong, healthy & vibrant community)

The HEAL Zone neighborhood has an obesity/overweight rate of over 67%, and most residents, who on average earn less than $19,999/yr, do not have a primary care provider. The area’s physical environment contributes to health problems by being automobile-oriented, with a great deal of fast food providers.

Through a program called Build Health Challenge, Ontario has brought together residents to help address the social determinants of health in the area, partly by training area residents as Clinical Community Health Workers who collect neighborhood data that then becomes part of an overall health dashboard created in conjunction with a local lab. These workers also provide educational services, training, and usage tracking services for residents in the area.

Results of these efforts include the creation of five health hubs, training of 24 residents in paraprofessional jobs, free biometric screenings to over 600 residents, and the creation of a “medical home,” the Ontario Health Center, for over a third of the participants. In addition, there has been a 21% improvement in BMI and an average individual weight loss of eleven pounds.


3.) Promise Scholars & Community Wide Educational Attainment

Low educational attainment is a major problem in the central core neighborhoods of Ontario, in part due to the area’s high poverty rate—86% of the kids receive free or reduced cost meals—and because over 90% of the kids come from families in which neither parent has graduated from college.

The Promise Scholars program offers free or discounted access to area colleges for all 22,000 students in Ontario’s focus neighborhoods, along with counseling, tutoring, and other services. With support from United Way, local businesses, community volunteers, and Americorps, curricula about the importance of academic performance and the potential for college attendance is being delivered at most grade levels, with a plan to eventually reach all grade levels.

Early results from the program are positive, with 60 students accessing tuition funds through the program. In addition, the number of students completing a college preparatory class rose from 19% to 48%, the number completing financial aid applications increased from 32% to 57%, and the number in at least one high school enrolling in college rose from 47% to 57%.

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