Lo Que Pasa | By Gerri KellyMel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health | March 29, 2019
A partnership meant to increase physical activity and prevent chronic disease has led to the creation of a community cycling center in Ajo, Arizona.
Lily Williams describes Ajo as a trusting and safe town where you can see the stars at night. Her parents still live in the same house she grew up in. Located in western Pima County, the small rural community of Ajo is a former mining town with Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for a backyard, and a total population of 3,165.
Like many rural communities across the country, Ajo has its challenges. Recent studies found that 71 percent of families in Ajo are living below the federal poverty line and there is a 15 percent unemployment rate – both significantly higher than other areas within Pima County. Nearly half of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, a group that continues to experience significant chronic disease disparities for conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Data from the Ajo Unified School District shows that each grade had an obesity rate of at least 32 percent, with sixth grade reaching an alarming 57 percent.
"The residents of Ajo have significant disparities due to multiple social determinants of health including a lack of access to opportunities for physical activity and other resources necessary to prevent chronic disease," said Martha Monroy, program manager and lecturer in the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
After 10 years of city living, Williams moved back home to Ajo with her husband and young daughter.
"So here I am back in my community ready to be involved but now a parent. How do I live a healthy lifestyle for both myself and my family in a community that I am learning has so much chronic disease? And since we are a community that is like family, how do we as a community come together and alter or even change our culture so that we can take advantage of what Ajo has to offer," Williams says in a digital storytelling video for the Bike Ajo Coalition.
Monroy and colleagues applied for the Arizona Planning Association's Plan4Health grant and with a dedicated group of people, the Bike Ajo Coalition was formed. Today, the town has two bike hubs open to children and their families, one located at the Ajo Unified School District office and the other based at Desert Senita Community Health Center.
This isn't Monroy's first ride around the block when it comes to building a coalition to create healthy communities. She worked with community partners to create the Bike Center at the Roy Drachman Clubhouse on Tucson's south side and the Docs on Bikes project in collaboration with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.
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