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  Inspiring Social Change Through Sustainable Health
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“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. "This isn't the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved."
-First Lady Michelle Obama, Feb. 9th, 2010

"Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable, and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity."
-Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention, 2008
The New York City Department of Health reports state that the most fit children score at least 36 points higher on standardized tests than the least healthy by at least 36 points.
Quality arts education is directly tied to higher academic performance.
Schools with strong parent-teacher associations are linked to better academic achievement.
New York state mandates principals have arts and physical fitness during the school day.
Budget constraints and Dept. of Education academic regulations force even the most dedicated leaders who seek the best for their students to cut these programs.
Massive federal, state and city budget cuts are demoralizing school principals and faculties.
More affluent communities have active parent-teacher associations to fundraise to supplement the cost of programs. PTAs in poorer neighborhoods are historically weak, often plagued with theft, and effectively non-existent.
PTAs in wealthier communities know how to advocate for their schools and successfully get free programs meant for poorer communities.
Low-income communities – home to single parents, workers who must take two jobs to stay afloat, the homeless and challenged – miss opportunities because they are not made easily accessible. Even though many may work outside the home, these adults did not grow up in, or have exposure to, an environment in which they could learn the research, advocacy or organizational skills taken for granted by those more advantaged.

In NYC, two out of every five children elementary schoolchildren are overweight. Central Brooklyn is identified as one of three neighborhoods in NYC with the highest obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates, meaning even more children and adults are overweight than the city average. A third of the adults in Crown Heights is overweight. One out of eight has diabetes; and the neighborhood has the highest rate of deaths from heart disease between the ages of 54 and 65 in New York City.

Underprivileged children depend on school food for breakfast and lunch. Yet, a school meal at a cost of less than a dollar, lacks adequate nutrients or taste, preventing good health and promoting dietary diseases that disproportionately affects people of color.

Low-income neighborhoods that lack access to fresh produce or supermarkets have the highest death rates from obesity and diabetes, as do blacks and Hispanics. Residents depend on convenience stores. In central Brooklyn near PS 91, the closest farmers market is 20 minutes away in Grand Army Plaza. Fresh food is expensive and distant, fast food chains, bodegas and liquor stores are abundant.
"In New York City, the cultural capital of the world, public school students do not enjoy equal access to an arts education. In fact, students at schools with the lowest graduation rates—where the arts could have the greatest impact—have the least opportunity to participate in arts learning. Schools in the top third in graduation rates offered their students the most access to arts education and the most resources that support arts education.3 Schools in the bottom third in graduation rates consistently offer the least access and fewest resources.
-The Center for Arts Education

The New York City Department of Education has reported that only 8 percent of schools citywide comply with state standards for arts education. About 40 percent of the city schools have no licensed music teacher. None of the four low-income, minority schools in Crown Heights surveyed by SEEDS in March 2009 had no formal music programs. One in particular has a roomful of dormant instruments and no one to teach.

There were no soccer programs and limited affordable sports, dance and physical fitness opportunities when SEEDS entered three Crown Heights schools in March 2009. Studies show that a student's health and participation in quality arts education are directly related to academic achievement. In most schools, some classes never have gym at all during the school day because of scheduling problems and access to gyms.. According to national studies, nearly half of American children between 8 and 16 years old watch 3-5 hours of television a day. Children who watch the most television have the highest incidence of obesity.

Environmental education - the study of science and nature - especially in the very young, improves cognitive functioning, reduces symptoms of attention deficit disorder, increases self-discipline and emotional well being. In a recent book, “Last Child in the Woods,” author Robert Louv notes that children’s lack of access to natures and outdoors is linked to obesity, depression, anxiety and attention-deficit problems.

Our research identified numerous well-meaning individuals, government agencies and nonprofits dedicated to improving the health and education of disadvantaged communities. Yet, many programs appear ineffective, isolated and not sustainable because they are competing for the same funds, are chronically understaffed and simply do not connect or communicate with one another.

Our challenge: How do you build a sustainable program embraced by a community with no history of access to affordable fresh food, exercise programs, healthy cooking, active after-school activities, quality health care,? A drop-in greencart won’t do it. Just a garden won’t cut it.
We researched available resources, linked them together into an integrated meaningful whole with the advice of seasoned educators and experts. We then began working with the community to empower and engage residents in a positive, respectful way to take advantage of these resources to improve their well-being and quality of life and beautify their environment. We are sustainable because the community is doing it, not us.

We also called upon the volunteerism of the New York City "village" - crossing cultural, socioeconomic, racial, religious divides to build bridges of trust and opportunity and support.

We hope these partnerships and friendships will last long after we've walked out of the school door. Any small donation, even a minute or a penny, we say, is more than we had yesterday.

Seeds in the Middle, PO Box 310752, Brooklyn, NY 11231  |  Phone: 917-697-3745  |  E-mail:

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