Spring brings seeds of healthier West Side

West Side Health Authority's Good Neighbors campaign highlights gardens, healthy eating

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By Bonni McKeown

They were tiny pots with just a little soil and a seed. To brothers Brandon and Breshan Wilkerson, who are coordinating a youth group for the West Side Health Authority's Good Neighbors initiative, the seeds offer the beginning of positive new things for area young people. 

Breshan, a ministry student, gave out the pots, soil and seeds at the Good Neighbors' monthly meeting, held April 9, at 5437 W. Division. He said people plant the seeds (and supply the containers for hold them), but God provides the soil and the miracle of sprouting, new life. 

"These seeds symbolize change in our community," Brandon said. "If you plant a seed of love, love will spread throughout our community. The same goes with peace, prosperity, wealth etc. Whatever change we want to see in our community, we are believing that God will provide anything that our hearts desire." 

The seeds, as they sprout, will soon find a home. The Good Neighbors' men's group, led by William Warren, has cleaned off a messy vacant lot at the intersection of Lorel and Thomas Streets, with plans for a community garden. 

The men will construct raised garden beds in which they hope to start planting seeds in the next two weeks. The men's group meets for prayer, a hot breakfast and community activism each Wednesday, 10:30 a.m, at 5852 W. North Ave. New attendees are always welcome, they said. 

The Good Neighbor program, designed for young people ages 12 to 24, offers job resources, business opportunities, mentoring, recreation, community service and economic development. 

Boys and girls, ages 12 to 18, may sign up during their school spring break at the old YMCA , 501 N. Central, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone interested can contact Brandon Wilkerson (312) 599-9311; Breshawn Wilkerson (773) 939-2699; or Jordan Bester (815) 733-0586.

Meanwhile, the women's group holds exercise/prayer/talk sessions on healthy living. Letina Day said she lowered her cholesterol count by eating five fruits and vegetables a day. She blended some of the fruits and vegetables in a smoothie she drank each morning.  

"We say that health problems are inherited, but maybe we grew up just learning poor habits, like snacks every day of soda pop and chips," Day said. "When you make gradual changes, you keep learning and start to prefer healthier foods. Finish up an item in your pantry and replace it with something healthier. Even if organic food costs more, it's still cheaper than a heart attack."

The women meet each Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., at 5852 W. North Ave. Newcomers are welcome.

Jackie Reed, the founder of the Westside Health Authority, launched the Good Neighbors campaign in 2015. The campaign is a collaboration among clergy, citizens and community groups who want to reduce violence and increase economic development opportunities for the West Side.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com 

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