Latino teens tackle public health


July 22nd, 2011

Omaha, NE – Latino youth are taking their health into their own hands, with a movement they want to see go global.

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Joey Castellanos (right) and Danny Cardenas (left) played the guitar, and sang a song they created for the launch of Saludable Omaha. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Under a sweltering sun, Joey Castellanos and Danny Cardenas, two students at Omaha South High School, played the guitar and sang a song they wrote for the Saludable project. They stood in front of a large mural, where several other students painted a picture of the Virgin Mary, pulling someone out of a vat of fat.

“Saludable is basically a Latino youth group,” said Castellanos, “and we’re focusing on bettering the health and the lifestyle of the Latino community here in South Omaha.”

The word Saludable comes from “Salud,” which means “health” in Spanish, and an acronym: Attitude, Balance, Leadership, Energy. It’s a name the students came up with to brand their project that’s designed to reverse a darkening picture of health in the Latino community – as diabetes and obesity continue to plague it.

South Omaha teens paint a mural outside Rybin Plumbing on Vinton Street, as part of the launch of the public health movement, Saludable. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I’m not trying to put you on the spot here,” said Cardenas addressing Castellanos, “but I know Joe’s family, like I’ve seen his grandma’s cooking, and it is just, oh man, just caking on lard for the basis of something, and it’s horrible. It’s like a heart attack in a pan, just waiting to happen.”

The project officially launches on Saturday, but it’s been in the works for several weeks. Funded by the research group, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it’s a partnership with Omaha South High School and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Catherine Stewart is filming the project and acting as Creative Director. She was brought in from her home base in the United Kingdom, and said the science behind this project is what makes it unique. The question behind the project, she said, is “Can we marry the scientific mind with the artistic mind, and come up with something evidence-based, but extremely tailored and relevant to the community that we’re all trying to serve.”

Saludable started with workshops, Stewart said, where the students learned about branding, marketing, and presentation. They’ve created a logo, slogans, and a website. They’ve canvassed neighborhoods and got local businesses involved.

The branding for Saludable Omaha was created by the teens in the group. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“They feel they’ve picked up a lot of skills that we hope will serve them later in life,” Stewart said, “harnessing their creativity to a message, and to serving their community, and to being a team in communicating what’s important to them.”

“The ultimate goal is really for the community to take complete ownership of this,” said Terry Huang, a Professor and Chair of Health Promotion at UNMC. “It becomes a life brand, it becomes a brand that is so cool that all the kids and adults alike will want to be associated with it…and when they see Saludable Omaha, it gives off a good feeling, a positive feeling, and it inspires people to make changes and to demand changes from local businesses and local institutions.”

And where do the students want to go from here? Simply put: “Global,” laughed Danny Cardenas. He hopes the project sparks a change that moves out of Omaha, he said, to the rest of the state, the country, and the world. It’s already made a change in his own life.

“I used to sit around just at home not do anything my entire summer,” he said. “But every single day, I bike from 44th Street all the way to South and back, even on really hot days like this, so that’s a total of four miles. And since then, I’ve lost like six, seven pounds, I’m waking up, you know, I’m feeling great.”

Saludable Omaha will kick off with a fiesta on Vinton Street in South Omaha on Saturday.

2 Responses

  1. julie homan says:

    I’m happy that we have such good teens in Omaha. Maybe the next generation can do better then the older ones.

  2. Russ Bennett says:

    What a wonderful program! and by the way “Saludable” means “healthy” in spanish, it is pronounced “sa-loo-dah-bleh”. For additional resources and health information, the students can find info in both English and Spanish on

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