WESLACO, RGV – The Knapp Community Care Foundation granted checks to several organizations and charities last week during their annual Community Care Grants Award Celebration.

Yvonne “Bonnie” Gonzalez, CEO of KCCF, presented the checks and briefly described the programs that they will be funded through them. As of 2012, the private nonprofit has granted over $25 million to local and national entities that provide programs that “impact, improve and sustain long-term health of residents” in the Mid-Valley.

“Tonight is the culmination of a lot of work, a lot of dreams and a lot of passion from a lot of community groups who really want to improve the health of Mid-Valley families,” said KCCF Board Member Lynn Carter. “And that’s what we want to do. So, our focus this year has been on diabetes and obesity, and each of these programs will touch the lives of many people in many ways.”

This year, about $3.8 million was granted between the following organizations:

  • Access Esperanza Clinics, Inc. for “Access to Diabetes Assessment” ($257,100);
  • City of Weslaco for the Northside Park Complex project ($250,000);
  • Dentists Who Care for their Mobile Dental Unit and Charity Dental Voucher Program ($165,000);
  • El Milagro Clinic for their DREAM program ($400,000);
  • Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. for food relief and their Mobile Produce & Diabetes Prevention Program ($66,036);
  • South Texas College for high school diabetes and obesity prevention ($50,000);
  • South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association to expand their programs ($103,500);
  • Su Casa De Esperanza for diabetes prevention amongst the colonia population ($51,693);
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center School of Public Health for outreach to women of reproductive age ($349,640);
  • The Boys & Girls Club of Weslaco for childhood obesity prevention ($60,000);
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston for their Healthy Communities Institute Platform ($20,000);
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for disease research ($1,989,727);
  • Valley Nature Center for summer camps ($100,000). Knapp Medical Center was also granted $3 million for indigent and charity care.

More detailed descriptions from the evening’s program:

Access Esperanza Clinics, Inc. – “To provide screenings, education and support to young adults who are at high-risk for diabetes; and will focus on interventions that improve patient’s ability to monitor and manage health conditions.”

City of Weslaco – “The City of Weslaco will transform forty (40) plus acres of open green space, located on Mile 11, into a community park.”

Dentists Who Care – “To support the use of the Mobile Dental Unit and Charity Dental Voucher Program to provide dental services to approximately 1,000 uninsured children and adults in the Mid-Valley.”

El Milagro Clinic – “This program is a patient-centered holistic approach for diabetes education, lifestyle changes, self-management and social support to positively impact the health of the pre-diabetic and diabetic participants.”

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. – “The Food Bank will combine current food relief and health education activities with a Mobile Produce & Diabetes Prevention Program in the Mid-Valley colonias.”

South Texas College – “STC’s AND and LVN students, in partnership with local independent school districts, will guide local high school students into healthier lifestyles through diabetes and obesity prevention and overall health management support.”

South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association – “To expand current STJDA diabetes programs and services to families and communities by creating a satellite location in the Mid-Valley, thereby reaching a greater population in South Texas.”

Su Casa De Esperanza – “Su Casa will integrate the HealthFit for Life nutrition education into their existing program by teaching the mothers and children to practice healthy eating choices, eating habits, and physical activity in order to reduce/prevent the occurrence of Diabetes and Obesity within the colonia population.”

Texas A&M University Health Science Center School of Public Health – “TAMU will design a culturally competent outreach program for women of reproductive age (15-44) in the Mid-Valley area which includes community needs assessment among women of reproductive age.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Weslaco – “The program emphasizes regular physical activity and proper nutrition in order to combat childhood obesity at the Rico Elementary in Weslaco.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health – “Through Unidos Contra la Diabetes (UCD) and several other partners, UT Houston will address important health challenges in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) by developing an online data platform product, the Healthy Communities Institute (HCI) Platform for its SMS, to serve as a regional electronic platform.”

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley – “UTRGV will characterize the genetic and environmental determinants of risk for diabetes, obesity, and the related disorders of heart disease and fatty liver disease.”

Valley Nature Center – “Valley Nature Center will provide eight weeks of summer camps to 35-40 campers. Camps include children of all ages as well as children with special needs and consists of nutritious breakfasts, lunches, snacks. Nutrition and special diets are especially important for children with special medical needs such as diabetes/obesity.”

Diabetes research

KCCF was created in late 2012 with a mission to improve the health of Mid-Valley families in the Rio Grande Valley. KCCF strategically invests in organizations that:

  • Increase and improve quality healthcare access and nutritional education for the most health-stricken, uninsured or medically underserved populations in the service delivery area.
  • Identify programs that offer innovation leading to improved wellness and fitness, and that support preventive healthcare and health education access.
  • Support successful healthcare, educational, wellness programs already serving the most vulnerable population.

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and executive vice president for Health Affairs at UTRGV, said the $1,989,727 donated by KCCF to UTRGV over four years will help the School of Medicine conduct genomic research related to diabetes among residents in the Mid-Valley.

“We are grateful to the Knapp Community Care Foundation for its support of the UTRGV School of Medicine’s research endeavors into a disease that affects so many in the community,” Krouse said. “This grant will help the School of Medicine pursue its mission to engage in research that will advance scientific knowledge that will lead to the development of medicines and treatments. These discoveries ultimately will improve health outcomes for residents throughout the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.”

Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero, director of the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute, said a new project, “Screening High Risk Families for Diabetes to Establish a Genomic Research Center in the Mid-Valley,” will focus on studying residents from the communities comprising the Mid-Valley – Edcouch, Elsa, La Blanca, La Villa, Mercedes, Monte Alto, San Carlos and Weslaco – to find links between genetic factors and increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease.

Williams-Blangero said scientists at the STDOI will work with clinical faculty and staff at the Knapp Medical Center/UTRGV Family Practice Residency Clinic and the School of Medicine’s Unimóvil, to identify individuals between the ages of 30 and 40 who have type 2 diabetes and are members of large families. The family members will be invited to participate in the study, which ultimately will recruit a total of 1,000 participants.

Participants will undergo a general physical exam and complete a health questionnaire, Williams-Blangero explained. Those who need follow-up care will be referred to the Knapp Medical Center/UTRGV Family Practice Residency Clinic. Scientists from the STDOI will analyze blood samples from participants to identify genetic and environmental factors that are connected to increased risk for diabetes and related diseases.

“We are excited about the great opportunity the Knapp Community Care Foundation is providing us,” Williams-Blangero said. “This will be our first major recruitment in the Valley and will shape the future direction of research by STDOI scientists.  Through this project, we will be able to not only learn more about the determinants of risk for type 2 diabetes, but we also will be able to provide screening to more than 150 families living in the Mid-Valley.”

Williams-Blangero referenced research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which shows that diabetes affects 30.3 million people the United States – nearly 10 percent of the country’s population. CDC notes that 84 million have pre-diabetes.

Williams-Blangero said the prevalence of diabetes in Mexican Americans in the Valley is estimated at 30 percent.

KCCF CEO Gonzalez said diabetes has created a large economic burden, with $245 billion spent annually on patient care, loss of work time, disability and other related costs. She noted that significant diabetes-related health disparities exist among Mexican Americans, who comprise more than 85 percent of the population in Hidalgo County, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

“It is critically important to the Knapp Community Care Foundation and its Board of Directors to support The UTRGV School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute on this groundbreaking genomic research,” Gonzalez said. “We are honored to be part of this project and feel strongly that the knowledge gained could lead to new and improved interventions for diabetes in the future.”

The project will run through Dec. 31, 2021.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the grant from KCCF will help UTRGV in its goal of becoming a premier research institution.

“The Knapp Community Care Foundation’s grant will bolster our efforts in conducting highly sophisticated scientific and biomedical research that will contribute to saving lives,” Bailey said. “It also is an indication that our community values the hard work and innovation of our students, faculty and staff at UTRGV, the School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute.”