Even with Colorado’s overall robust economy, poverty, especially in rural areas, continues to be the leading driver of inequity when it comes to health. A recent Colorado Health Foundation event in Cañon City put a spotlight on innovative efforts under way to address poverty, including a successful bid by the city’s high school students to give kids from struggling families free tuition at community college.
Ryan Stevens, the city’s director of economic development, says students wrote the application for the state’s Pathways in Technology initiative in their tech writing class.
“By giving kids educational opportunities to increase their chances to be successful in life,” says Stevens, “in the long run they’re going to have more opportunities to have a healthier lifestyle throughout their entire lives.”
To qualify for free tuition at Pueblo Community College’s Fremont campus, high school students have to be enrolled in a curriculum heavy in science, technology, engineering or math, and have to intern in a STEM-related company while in school. Stevens says his office will be working through the summer months to help line up those internships for the next school year.
Lyndsey Williams directs La Puente’s Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley, a coalition of 15 food pantries throughout the six-county region. She says many rural residents – in an area roughly the size of Massachusetts – are living in what are considered to be food deserts, with limited access to fresh produce.
She notes that people without access to grocery stores are at greater risk of developing diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
“A lot of times, gas stations only offer things that are not healthy, they’re processed foods,” says Williams. “They’re not fresh, they’re not whole foods. It’s almost like a snowball effect. You know, you can’t afford fresh food, so you purchase the things that you can afford.”
Last year Williams and some 50 volunteers were able to connect more than 13,000 people, about a quarter of the valley’s total population, with healthy food. Williams says one of this year’s goals is to increase access to fresh produce in remote areas by linking pantries with community gardens.
Public News Service – CO