Healthy Hood Chicago in Pilsen works to close life expectancy gap for communities of color through fitness, food

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Healthy Hood Chicago, a three-year-old health organization and fitness and dance studio based in Pilsen, works with students and in the city's communities of color to help residents of lower income neighborhoods live longer, healthier lives.

Healthy Hood was founded by Tanya Lozano, who said the organization was built to combat the 20-year life expectancy gap that exists in the city between communities of color and more affluent communities.

"The distribution of resources in this city are a little more in your face because of that fact, because we're so segregated," Lozano said. "So we can see where the resources are going."

Healthy Hood operates both a fitness studio and a community garden near the intersection South Damen Avenue and West Cermak Road. They have a second community garden in North Lawndale.

"We all know food is medicine," Lozano said. "Everything that we grow is absolutely free to the community. We grow everything from cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro."

Rush medical students operate the gardens.

"We're trying to work on the preventative aspect here, which is why Healthy Hood was born," she explained.

The organization partners with Rush Medical, and is active in 21 Chicago Public Schools and alternative schools. They work with students to educate them about the life expectancy gap, the five most common diseases in lower income communities, and certifies students in screening themselves and family members for those diseases.

"In the very beginning it was just me by myself. I was teaching Zumba here for a dollar. It slowly but surely grew," said Lozano. "Unfortunately in this country, working out or access to preventative measures is really a privilege."

Healthy Hood offers fitness classes, including yoga, High Impact Interval Training (HIIT), children's karate, and dance classes, all for $5 per class. In the studio a respect for health, understanding of the need for exercise and the need for discipline starts young.

"When they first walk in the room they speak to the sensei, and they speak to everyone that's involved," said Master Randy M., who teaches children's karate. "It shows respect."

"Learning how to keep yourself focused, learning how to control yourself," said Zuriel Hernandez, karate student.

"There is a three-prong approach: exercise the body, educate the mind and awaken the consciousness," Lozano said.

Instructors keep 80 percent of the profit, Lozano said, and 20 percent is donated to help keep the organization running. They also encourage certified instructors of color to come back to their communities to offer fitness classes to lower income communities that have less access to them.

"What we found is all these instructors of color go to school or get certifications and gain all these resources, but they don't bring them back to their neighborhoods," Lozano said. "We have an 80/20 rule. You come here, you teach here, you give to the community you keep 80% of your profits and you donate 20 to keeping the lights on."

"I like to take my karate classes here because it's very close to my house. I don't have to go like an hour in the car to get to my classes," Hernandez said.

"The only way to measure it is with hope," said Lozano. "I think we're providing hope to the community."

Click here for more information about Healthy Hood Chicago
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