A desire to improve the health and performance of its young athletes has kickstarted a movement toward a better, more connected Diamond Hill community.
What started out as an effort to encourage young athletes to eat healthier snacks has kickstarted a community-wide, multi-generational push for longer, better lives in Fort Worth’s tight-knit Diamond Hill neighborhood.
Roxanne Martinez runs the Diamond Hill Northside Youth Association, a non-profit organization that provides youth sports. A few years ago, the life-long resident of the community became concerned that children who came out to play football and other sports weren’t fueling or re-fueling themselves properly. What’s more, she realized those behaviors mimicked those of grown-ups on the sidelines. “I started to observe unhealthy habits that were being passed on to the youth,” she said. “I thought there might be a better way -- an opportunity to educate children and adults about healthier options and the benefits of better well-being.”
When she learned about Blue Zones Project and the Power Nine principles – habits of the longest living people – Martinez seized on the opportunity to make changes, one principle at a time. “I didn’t want to overwhelm people, but I felt like the Blue Zones Project principles would fit really well with our residents, and we could adapt them to our community to promote a healthier lifestyle,” she said.
First on the list – eating with a Plant-Slant. “We started with simple things such as encouraging kids to eat fruit instead of the potato chips and sugary snacks that they and their parents were bringing to practice. We created a ‘fuel-up’ station that offered fresh fruit.”
Similarly, organizers developed a meal program for the Diamond Hill High School football team, which hadn’t won a game in years. Players either weren’t eating before games or were eating foods that failed to fill them up properly, Martinez and others noticed. Once the athletes began eating healthier meals together, their game performances on the field changed. “We went from winning literally no games to winning two to three games last season and a couple of games so far this season,” she said. “Eating healthier – and eating together – has definitely transformed the team and helped build team morale. The team’s success has carried over into the community.”
The community has changed in other ways when it comes to eating healthier. Today, thanks to Blue Zones Project support for city policy changes, vendors in the area can sell more than ice cream and sugary drinks. They can now offer sell fresh, healthy options like whole and cut fruit. Gabriel Velazquez, an entrepreneur who owns Paleteria La Flor de Michoacan – a traditional Hispanic ice cream and snack shop – started selling fruit cups near the high school from a push cart in a pilot program launched in Fall 2019. “I wasn’t sure the program would work,” he said. “Would people choose healthier options over their regular snacks? Would they pay for fruit?”
The community quickly answered. Velazquez became a popular attraction at the Wednesday evening sports practices, so much so that he began showing up daily, selling out each day. As a result, six other ice cream vendors plan to start selling fruit in Diamond Hill, as well as other areas throughout the city.
More change occurred as parents along the sidelines got off their chairs and onto their feet to participate in “Walking Wednesdays,” which encourages Moving Naturally – another Blue Zones Project principle. Then something else happened. What started out as a few laps around the field grew into a social event where people began walking and connecting with each other on a more personal level. This idea of enhanced social connections is key in Blue Zones, those areas of the world where people live longer, better lives. “Walking Wednesdays didn't just get people moving, it got them talking to each other. It built up family engagement and morale. I've seen some great friendships develop out of those Walking Wednesdays,” Martinez said.
Today, those walks – and talks – occur among parents and spectators during every practice. What’s more, seniors at the nearby community center have gotten into the act. “Blue Zones Project came into the Diamond Hill community and really connected us across generations, and even supported community events that have become real traditions for our neighborhood,” she added.
Other Blue Zones Project principles—like Belonging, Right Tribe and Family First—are infused in the community, she added. “What's special about Diamond Hill? It's home. We take pride in our culture. We also just take pride in our community and being a unit and our togetherness.” Martinez added, “I have definitely seen it impact families where they have taken it home and taken it to heart and are implementing those things in their lives.
“I'm proud to be a part of bringing Blue Zones to my community,” Martinez said. “But I'm even more proud of my community for taking that step and making those small changes to transform their lives too, to make them healthier lives.”