Story By Kacie Frederick. Photos by Jan Osborn.
The prevalence of obesity in Southeast Dallas is approximately 43%, while the child poverty rate remains steady at 45%. With these statistics in mind, the Texas Health Resources team and their partner, Texas Woman’s University, introduced YES Dallas–a modern, balanced living initiative. YES Dallas is just one of multiple community-based programs instigated by Texas Health. Since 2018, Texas Health has been approaching how to benefit the community through a health equity lens. Tauane Araújo Cruz, Director of Community Health Improvement for Texas Health, explains Texas Health’s drive to look at things at an “upstream level.”
“Our goal is not to approach people in the hospital, but before they even have to go,” says Araújo Cruz. “We are looking at what we can do now to influence and support the behaviors and the avenues people have toward better health.”
Through this action, Texas Health is providing our Dallas communities with the education and resources needed to help prevent future diseases, such as obesity. As Texas Health has witnessed, social determinants of health can have negative effects on overall health and wellbeing. So, Araújo Cruz and her team have been working hard to engage the community differently. To do this, Texas Health strives to collaborate to create solutions that improve the community’s health, convene organizations in meaningful dialogue, and provide grants to bring viable ideas to fruition. Thus, YES Dallas was born.
Texas Health is 1 of 18 grantees and is the only one in Texas to have been selected to implement the YES Dallas initiative. The program is part of a national push by Health and Human Services to get kids more involved in physical activities. Statistically, in socially economically disadvantaged and minority families, children are less likely to be involved in team sports–particularly girls. Texas Health recognized this difficulty as a specific need. The knowledge to thrive in health and wellness is preventive healthcare for these kids, as team sports assist the youth in leading healthier lives, gaining confidence, and combating the current obesity epidemic. YES Dallas is all about removing the barriers to play.
“If you step back,” says Araújo Cruz, “There are many families that can’t afford for their children to participate in team sports which puts them at an unfortunate disadvantage.”
Araújo Cruz and the Director of the Center for Research Design & Analysis at Texas Woman’s University, Dr. Paul Yeatts, dedicate the YES Dallas program as research for the connection between poverty and obesity. The initiative focuses on 6th-8th grade students from Southeast Dallas who engage in a 6-month intervention. YES Dallas helps the children access physical activities and nutritional education. With community-based partners, such as Mark Cuban Heroes and After-School All-Stars, Araújo Cruz and Yeatts track the children’s progress through pre- and post-assessments to conclude if the kids’ physical literacy has improved. YES Dallas also counts on the support of a comparison group of youth at A Plus Charter Schools.
Launching in early 2020, Texas Health has learned to adapt YES Dallas to the pandemic. From yoga, Zumba, boxing, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and even Taekwondo, the children gained access to different ways to stay active. YES Dallas also offers an interactive app with more than 4,000 virtual exercise and nutrition education videos. Through primarily community outreach, YES Dallas fostered more than 15 vendors and instructors, most of whom were Dallas born and raised.
“Our Taekwondo instructor has a studio in Southlake, and he drove to Pleasant Grove every Saturday to provide lessons to the kids because he was just so passionate to give back to the community,” shares Araújo Cruz. “It made me feel like there are still so many people out there committed to helping the lives of others.”
Commitment and passion drive positive outcomes. Within the first 2 years of YES Dallas, the Texas Health team explored the effects of parent engagement on youth participation. The children of parents who were highly engaged with the program ended up being the children most often enduring the entirety of the 6 month program. Moreover, as much as YES Dallas wants to see improvement in the kids; there is only so much the initiative can do without parent support. Since then, Araújo Cruz and her team have tried to incorporate the parents by providing activities fit for the whole family.
Additionally, YES Dallas conducted a Sports Medicine Student Internship Program (SMSIP) in 2021. The goal of the internship was to offer the kids who had an interest in a health-related profession a glimpse of sports medicine. So, the SMSIP recruited 16 high school students and an athletic trainer to mentor the program. The high schoolers participated with the YES Dallas youth in physical activities, and learned how to assess injuries through a comprehensive set of virtual lectures from Texas Health Sports Medicine professionals. Of all the recruits, 10 out of the 11 kids who finished the program were girls, 72% being Hispanic or Latina, and all enrolled in college for health careers.
“Just seeing their passion for engaging with the kids of the YES Dallas initiative and their excitement to pursue a healthcare career were inspiring,” says Araújo Cruz. “Like them, I have always had a passion for healthcare and business combined, but I didn’t want to be in a clinical setting necessarily. I needed to be connected to the community.”
Araújo Cruz, a Baylor University graduate who earned her Masters at the University of North Texas and is currently enrolled in Dallas Baptist University to pursue her Ph. D., began her work with nonprofits in college. This is where she decided to dive deep into healthcare and management. Seeing the needs of those underserved and discovering a whole sector of healthcare nonprofits, Araújo Cruz connected to her community through Texas Health.
Texas Health Resources is a nonprofit health system dedicated to serving and protecting the lives of North Texans. Texas Health is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, making your donation tax-deductible. Donations can be made online at https://www4.texashealth.org/donate/donate.aspx.