Buffalo is one of 41 cities selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for a national grant program known as "Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities." This citywide collaboration unveiled its vision for a healthier community at a public event held Sept. 28 at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Photography and artwork by city youths was on display during the HKHC celebration.

HKHC Buffalo is a local community partnership focused on improving opportunities for physical activity and access to affordable healthy foods through policy and environmental change.

HKHC Buffalo's foundation is based upon policy reform. With both City Hall and the School Board already involved in the journey toward a better Buffalo, changes from the streets to classrooms are sure to ensue. HKHC is a positive force to combat the effects of poverty facing inner-city youth.

While much of HKHC Buffalo's mission appears to be left in the hands of adults, young people also are speaking up about what needs to be done to expand the cause. After all, the children who play in the same parks, attend the same schools, and ride their bikes on the same streets are the ones who are going to be able to captivate other youths across the city.

Adriana Ragland, a senior at Leonardo DaVinci High School, and Jordan Velazquez, a senior at Bennett High School, are two of the young leaders of HKHC Buffalo. Adriana and Jordan's role in the kick-off event included taking some of the pictures on display that portrayed "good" and "bad" parts of Buffalo, which show where changes have been made and where improvement is needed.

"Because of the HKHC we are able to voice ourselves," said Jordan.

Adriana and Jordan echo the opinions of many young people in Buffalo.

In the future, they say they hope to see cleaner parks, more accessible bike routes and healthier options for school lunches. Because these things are still not readily available throughout Buffalo, HKHC recognizes that neighborhoods and schools are suffering.

When asked what the ultimate change Adriana wants to see in her city, she responded: "I see a community where everyone can dance and play in the streets. I envision a safer Buffalo."

Phil Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, addressed some of the concerns raised when it comes to becoming a healthier Buffalo.

"People [of Buffalo] are saying, 'We can't afford to do this' and I say, we can't afford not to do this," Haberstro said.

To learn more about the project, visit HKHC Project Coordinator Jessie Hersher's blog at

Natalie Murphy is a senior at City Honors.