Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Culture of Health

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Culture of Health

Article excerpt

The town of Wenatchee, Washington, hugs the western confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers, in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range. This favorable geographic position, with 300 days of sun and plentiful irrigation, has led the region to become the self-described "apple capital of the world," producing millions of boxes of Piñata, Honeycrisp, Gala and Pink Lady apples, not to mention sweet cherries, pears and stone fruit.

This legacy of large-scale fruit-growing has attracted Latino - particularly Mexican - agricultural workers and established a strong, multigenerational Latino community that represents nearly a third of Wenatchee's population. It's a community, largely centered in the southern half of the city, that has cultivated fruit, along with a tradition of cultural practices, including a nationally respected Mariachi scene.

A central hub of this community is Kiwanis Methow Park, a 1.26-acre park that welcomes music performances, festivals, holiday celebrations and other community gatherings. The park, however, shows the wear of this use (and love): aging play equipment, dirt instead of grass and a crumbling asphalt basketball court. In 2015, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), acting with a broad coalition of partners, set out to explore the redesign and renovation of this important asset. What happened along this exploration led to a remarkable and unexpected discovery that speaks to a growing appreciation for what health means - individually and collectively - and how parks can address population health by acting as a cultural asset, not just an active recreational one, in meeting a community's health needs.

Initial attempts by the park project team, working with two local community organizers, to garner feedback from the Latino's community about the park through a series of community meetings failed because of the community's unease with official events and the specter of immigration enforcement. The project team then decided to go to where people congregated, which happened to be a regional music and dance festival that took place in downtown Wenatchee. The event was brimming with people eager to learn about a new idea for the park and how they could voice their ideas for its future.

Many residents shared their desire to keep the park as a gathering space but were also excited about the opportunity to improve other aspects of the community, such as relations with neighboring communities or local health concerns. A 2013 community health needs assessment found that South Wenatchee's Latino population suffers most acutely from impaired mental health and the city's mental health service was overtaxed. In 2016, 13.8 percent of patients discharged from Central Washington Hospital had mental health or substance abuse diagnoses.

Drawing on the success of that music and dance event, the park project team decided to hold a similar event at Methow Park that, as the major draw, would highlight local culture and include health-focused nonprofits and for-profit service providers, focused on improving health outcomes in South Wenatchee. Following the new health festival, which drew nearly 400 people to Methow Park, the coalition realized two important things: cultural events at the park were a way to reach broad swaths of the population in meaningful engagement of important issues, and these cultural events and the park itself were ways to address the mental health challenges endemic to the area. …

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