BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — As a city that simultaneously celebrates the cultures of two nations during its largest annual event, it's only natural that Brownsville's toughest health challenges are as distinctive as its Tex-Mex culture.
The largest city in the poorest metropolitan area in the nation coupled with rates of obesity, diabetes and uninsured individuals that are among the highest in the United States, Brownsville has no shortage of health issues as it feels out its future.
The Brownsville Herald (http://bit.ly/1cEtCLn ) reports that's why years ago officials began putting together a Brownsville-specific plan to combat the health problems the city's residents face — a plan that has garnered national attention from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has named Brownsville a finalist in its Roadmaps to Health contest.
Brownsville was one of a dozen cities chosen from more than 250 applicants as a finalist in the contest, which awards $25,000 to six winning cities that display a commitment toward improving their health culture.
The criteria considered for the contest includes gauging the level of collaboration among community leaders, the inclusiveness of the approach to health improvement, the consideration given to vulnerable populations, sustainability, use of available resources, and how results are measured and shared.
Those criteria allow for different areas to be evaluated based on their response to their own specific issues, said Dr. Rose Gowen, medical director at the University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus.
"A map in Idaho might be different than a map in Florida and it might be different from a map in Brownsville," she said.
But collaboration among many different entities is a big sell no matter what state you're in, she said, noting that's why the city highlighted events like its weekly farmers market and CycloBia.
"They want to see that you are collaborating with different factions of your community," she said. "That is the kind of project that they really want to hear about."
Repurposing an abandoned rail line into the Belden Trail was another of the city's projects it included on its application, Gowen said.
"Now that route is not an eyesore alleyway but a beautiful trail," she said. "It has made the neighborhood not just more beautiful but safer and more connected to the rest of the city."
The unique and steep challenges the city has had to tackle in its pursuit of a healthier future could factor into how Brownsville emerged in the top 12, Gowen said.
"We are doing things that are addressing head-on those barriers and getting results," she said.
And when the grant evaluation team performs a site visit in December, Gowen said it'll get to see firsthand the effects Brownsville's efforts have had on residents.
"They want to hear from the people that actually live along the Belden Trail or the people that go to the farmers market," she said.
That is where the Brownsville Community Improvement Corp. comes in, as Ernie Garrido said his group is working to organize and plan the site visit to ensure all of the city's projects are highlighted during the short visit.
Gowen said she's happy with the city's performance thus far, especially since it leaves Brownsville with good odds to receive one of the no-strings-attached cash prizes.
"We actually have a very good chance of all-out winning it," she said.
The six winners of the award will be announced in June 2014.
Information from: The Brownsville Herald, http://www.brownsvilleherald.com