Long a gateway community for immigrants, Lawrence has the largest Latino population in New England, with 74 percent of the city’s residents coming from the Caribbean or Central America. Residents face formidable health issues, including high rates of asthma, heart disease, tobacco-related illness and diabetes. About 45 percent of children and 69 percent of adults are obese or overweight. Thirty-nine percent of children live in poverty. Leaders in Lawrence recognize that it will take a concerted effort on multiple, overlapping fronts to see improvement.
“There's really a renaissance on how we build a community around this idea of a healthy place to live,” says Mayor Daniel Rivera, who, with the Mayor’s Health Task Force and the Board of Health, launched the Healthy Active Living Resolution and companion wellness campaign in 2014 to support active lifestyles.
It’s a challenge that means addressing the struggles of working families. It’s turning around schools and investing in youth. It’s revitalizing vacant land and derelict mills. It’s adding more open space, community gardens and bikeways. It’s seeing how everything is connected.
“Health is in all policies, and when you truly understand that, then you can create a Culture of Health,” says Lora, who is also director of social justice initiatives for the YWCA. “Unless you work in a collaborative manner, you really can't influence change. That means everyone matters. Residents, local government, public safety, nonprofits, environmentalists, planners, state legislators: Everyone has a voice.”