Alma Community Outreach provides a diversified Wellness Curriculum in partnership with public schools in low-income communities.

What if all youth and their families no matter their socioeconomic status had access to healthy and delicious food and overall Wellness.

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Food Deserts exist all over this country and youth and their families struggle to access healthy and affordable food. Before Alma Community Outreach was established, Founder Ashleigh Parsons worked at an after-school program in a Food Desert in San Francisco. During her time there, she witnessed time and again the prevalence of racism, the violence on the streets, the homelessness epidemic, the lack of access to healthy food opportunities, specifically for low-income families and the general dearth of resources provided to the communities that need them the most. The Tenderloin was considered a food desert, meaning there were no grocery stores available in walking distance and the plentitude of liquor stores were popular mostly for their pints of beer, hot cheetos and coco cola. Ashleigh ran programming on Saturdays, when students didn’t receive free lunch or breakfast from school. They often arrived with the hot cheeto / coco cola combo to serve as breakfast and lunch. Around 3p they would complain of headaches and nausea, which made sense considering a bottle of coke was more affordable than a bottle of water. When she moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Founder Ashleigh Parsons teamed up with a community of activists in Rampart that dedicate themselves to developing a holistic program that advocates for access to healthy food as well as the overall wellness of youth and their families.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

Website

http://www.almacommunityoutreach.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Los Angeles

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Los Angeles

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Food Access and Food Justice

Alma CO provides a framework in which students, families and their communities can thrive through a holistic lifestyle. Within this framework, the program focuses on four principle areas or core competencies that encompass overall wellness:

  • Emphasize the principles of sustainability, seasonality and environmental justice by building school gardens with hydroponics and raised beds, utilizing the garden for recipe development and providing recipes that are seasonal, healthy and delicious
  • Lay a foundation for concepts around mind-body awareness
  • Facilitate nutritional education through the lens of diabetes prevention
  • Provide an awareness around the importance of nourishment and process of cooking and gardening

While each program differs depending on the specific needs of the organization, the general format is outlined below:

  • Students circle up for a check-in and mindfulness activity (this ranges from breathing exercises to Qigong to Yoga to movement.
  • Staff introduce the lesson for the day, emphasizing seasonality & sustainability 
  • Students wash hands & divide into small groups
  • At sites with edible gardens, students dedicate time to maintaining & caring for the garden. They also harvest food to prepare the day's meal
  • Students prepare 2-3 accessible recipes 
  • Students share out their experience, the tasks they completed & the lessons they learned
  • Students enjoy a meal together and clean up so the space is left cleaner than when they arrived
  • Class ends as students receive a recipe card for them to bring home. This card is translated in English & Spanish so recipes can be easily replicated outside the classroom

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

We focus on Rampart, which is a predominantly Hispanic immigrant community characterized by poverty.

Year Founded

2012

Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Alma CO currently reaches 150 students/week in Rampart Neighborhood.
Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Temple | Los Angeles
Weekly Cooking & Gardening Classes in collaboration with the high school 'environmental justice' class
5 Hydroponic Towers, 5 Raised Beds
Internship Program
Garden Curriculum
New Village Girls Academy | Los Angeles
Weekly Cooking & Gardening Classes
1 Hydroponic Tower, 5 Raised Beds
Internship Program
Garden Curriculum
Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy | Los Angeles
Weekly Cooking Classes with the 3rd Grade Class
Monthly Parent Workshops that provide simple & accessible recipes
Bresee Foundation | Los Angeles
Weekly Cooking Classes with the Middle Schoolers
Garden Curriculum
Community Garden with 7 Hens

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We are interested in investigating the following DREAM METRICS:
• Stress Reduction
• Increase in Grades
• Increase in Health indicators
• Diabetes Reduction/Prevention
• Glycemic Impact
• Mental and Emotional Well-Being
• Competency in core values of seasonality & sustainability
• Improved Sleep

While we did not conduct any qualitative data, we did receive verbal feedback from our partners that the program was having a positive impact on students and their families in terms of stress reduction and overall wellness. We would like to partner with a University to investigate these metrics in a quantitative capacity.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Alma CO has thrived on a small operating budget for the past 3 years, and with our current resources and partnerships, we can continue the program without an increase in funding. However, in order to broaden our reach and more systematically study and implement the impact of wellness on low-income communities, Alma CO is actively seeking more partnerships and resources.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

To our knowledge, there are no current models that are developing a lifestyle program that ensures overall wellness for low income students and their parents. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive and intensive program with third graders that evaluates the efficacy of the program in terms of stress reduction, diabetes prevention and overall wellness.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

We advocate for a holistic approach to students and their families, which considers the social and emotional aspects of a child and works with communities to provide the resources necessary for a child and his or her family to thrive.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Clare Fox, Good Food LA

Program Design Clarity

We are a needs based Wellness Program that works directly with our community partners to provide our services to students and their families. We work in the Rampart Neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Rampart neighborhood is a predominantly Hispanic/Latino immigrant community characterized by poverty, overcrowding and low educational achievement. Alma Community Outreach reaches 150 students weekly. We currently have four partnerships: Camino Nuevo Temple, Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy, New Village Charter School and Bresee Foundation.

Community Leadership

We meet with our partners quarterly and we are in constant communication via email. Our program is need based and is unique to each site. That said, it is pertinent for us to receive feedback from our community partners and integrate suggestions into our programming. Our intent is to provide a service that helps improve health and overall wellness of students and their families.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

In order to scale, it is important to train high quality staff that are excellent in the fields of gardening, cooking and mindfulness. We are also interested in providing trainings that can be offered to teachers and community partners so a Wellness Curriculum can be provided beyond the limits of the Alma CO reach. Although we are only in the early stages, we believe in its efficacy and would like to see the curriculum throughout the country.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We believe that the essential ingredients of wellbeing are 1) connection to the self 2) connection to others 3) connection to community 4) safety 5) health. Alma CO is committed to providing a safe environment in which students are encouraged to explore their own interests as well as the community in which they live. By learning about the process of growing, harvesting, sourcing and cooking food, students connect with themselves and thrive.

Leadership Story

Ashleigh Parsons is the Founder of Alma CO. She brings a blend of expertise in education and restaurants. She received a Master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 2012. Aligned with her dedication to educating youth around health and wellness, she founded Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3) in 2012. Courtney Guerra is the Director of Alma CO. She is a farmer active in southern California and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone. A leader in Urban Ag, Courtney works with schools, restaurants, and non-profit organizations to provide food and farming education.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Alma Community Outreach was accepted as a partner to the Promise Zone in 2013.

6 comments

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Photo of Daniel
Team

Hi Ashleigh and Co.
Wishing you all the best on this opportunity, let us know if there's any way we can help support. Looking forward to partnering this fall with Alma in our after school program here at the Bresee Foundation. Y'all bring spirit and enthusiasm to food justice and I'm looking forward to seeing the impact on our middle school kids!
Best,
Daniel McWhirter
Director of Programs
The Bresee Foundation

Photo of Ashleigh
Team

Thank you, Daniel! We are really looking forward to partnering with Bresee Foundation to provide a Wellness Curriculum to youth and their families this upcoming school year!

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