Happy Homes are Healthy Homes

Where We Live: West Philadelphia Residents Learn to Address Health Concerns from a New Perspective
By Allison Rooney
On a crisp fall Saturday morning, dozens of women in West Philadelphia came with their children to learn more about a 5-month series of workshops devoted to Healthy Homes.
The Health Home program helps parents and children learn to identify health hazards in their  homes and take steps to remedy these hazards with safer products and procedures. This is the second time this program is being offered to families of West Philadelphia, building on the success of the 2009-2010 program that culminated in June with 50 graduates.
In addition to covering conservation strategies and nutrition, the program discusses asthma awareness and triggers in the home; the risks of exposure to lead paint, carbon monoxide and radon; bicycle and fire safety; integrated pest management; improving water and air quality; and waterHealthy Homes class waste management.
This new group was eager to learn about the program and how they can affect their children’s lives in a positive way. The purpose of this initial meeting was to invite families-one parent and one child-to commit to attending five Saturday-morning workshops
Tess Williams, Neighborhood Advisory Council Coordinator for The Partnership CDC, administers the workshops. She explained to the group, “Our philosophy is that, as the adult in your home, you are an influencer who makes decisions for your family about how you live, what you eat, and what you will and won’t do. However,” she continued, “your kids also influence you, as well as their siblings who may not come to these workshops.”
One attendee pointed out that, in terms of energy conservation, her daughter had been the one to stress that they should turn out lights they’re not using, because even though their family wasn’t paying for the electricity themselves, “someone was paying the bill,” she said.
Given the important role kids can play in the household, Healthy Homes offers separate classes for kids and parents. The kids program makes the information fun and accessible for children, while also giving them the chance to be creative. In January, the Spiral Q Puppet Theater helped kids to create collages that expressed the importance of water in their lives.
The Healthy Homes program teaches participants that where they live impacts their health .  “The age of your housing is a significant factor,” says Williams. “A lot of Philadelphia homes are older, which means they have old paint, pipes, and plaster, that expose your family to dangerous chemicals, especially if you are living there while repairs are being done.”
When Williams asked how many people in the room have asthma, 11 hands went up. When she asked about their children, it became clear that half the households in the room had a child with asthma, which  is unsurprising, considering that 60 percent of kids in the area miss school routinely because of asthma. She touched on household asthma triggers-such as dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides-that can have a long-term impact on kids
“Schools are ranked and funded based on attendance,” she explains, “so if we have an abundance of children in West Philadelphia missing school because of asthma, we’re always going to look like schools aren’t doing enough to educate our kids, and parents aren’t doing enough to get kids to school. The truth is, we’re facing a community health issue, and we want to do something at the foundational level to change this.”
Leaders of this event asked attendees to go back into their neighborhoods and start conversations with their neighbors as well as other members of their family about what they learned today. “We invite you to bring out other families to the next workshop,” Williams said. “We want you to use this information to benefit yourself, and then also to help someone else.”
Healthy homes parent and childParticipants receive more than $1,000 worth of products that will allow residents to implement their growing knowledge of living green and healthy. In addition to kits that test water quality and lead, participants receive green cleaning products, and non-toxic pest prevention supplies. The also receive a home visit “to make sure that what we’re giving them is working, since every situation is different,” says Williams.
One measure of a successful program is that it inspires participants to take what they’ve learned and, guided by the new awareness they have gained, take it to the next step. In this way, the “Pathways to Wellness” Project is a testament to the success of the Healthy Homes Program. Letitia McBride, a graduate of the first Healthy Homes workshops in 2009-2010, has gone on to initiate a project of her own, which recently received funding for implementation in 2011.
One of 20 programs organized by West Philadelphia residents to be awarded a $3,000 grant from SCI-West in November, “Pathways to Wellness” strives to assist children and families in making healthy food choices.
“I got together with another parent (at West Philadelphia High school), because we had an issue with the food in the school systems-they weren’t serving enough fresh vegetables, and the kids were dehydrated because they weren’t drinking enough water. We realized that, for some people, it’s a simple as they don’t eat more vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare them.” So the two applied for the grant to start their own workshop to teach kids and parents these skills.
McBride is thrilled to now have the chance to put their plan into action. “We want to do cooking demonstrations, and also take people on neighborhood walks, so they can see some of the natural herbs growing right around us,” she says. “The idea is that, at the end of our project, the families who take part will have developed eating habits where ‘healthy’ is the norm, and not the exception.”
“I learned a lot from the Healthy Homes program,” says McBride. “What’s most important is what we teach our kids about being healthy, because they carry these messages into the next generation. This work is rewarding and enriching, and communication is the key,” said McBride. “It’s not just about one of us, it’s about all of us sharing what we’ve learned to support the overall health of the entire community.”
For more information on the Healthy Homes Program or to sign up for the fall workshop series call The Partnership CDC at (215) 662-1612.  

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