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BBZ YouthUprising and BBZ Team Grp Photo

Providing Supports and Creating Opportunities for Families

Best Babies Zone is a multi-city project initiated through a WK Kellogg Foundation grant. The University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, under the leadership of Dr. Cheri Pies, the Alameda County Public Health Department, and the Building Blocks Collaborative serve as the lead agencies for the Oakland – Castlemont neighborhood.  The focus in Castlemont is to build a momentum for change by achieving small wins.  The interventions of Best Babies Zone (BBZ) are rooted in the Life Course Theory and aim to provide supports and create opportunities for families with young children. They work to provide these families with greater community leadership opportunities, foster connectedness, and generate solutions to improve the community conditions that impact health.


BBZ and the Alameda County Public Health Department expanded the definition of family health to include economic development, workforce development, and financial literacy.  They have also broadened the focus on maternal health to include fathers in their programming.


Best Babies Zone in Oakland, California was selected as a NOW Bright Spot because of its work, using the Life Course Theory, to support families and create opportunities.  Best Babies Zone, working with local community members developed three toolkits to support community innovation: Understanding Toolkit, Ideation Toolkit, and Experimentation Toolkit.


The partners engaged with Best Babies Zone have a collective strategy to bring an abundance of resources to the community.   Key partners include Youth UpRising, Castlemont High School, Brighter Beginnings, and First Five Alameda County. 

The early established goal for Best Babies Zone and the Building Blocks for Health Equity team was to make all doors the “right” door to access culturally relevant support, opportunities, and resources.   A “No wrong door” model was developed by the Heathy Start Initiative of Alameda County.  Using an integrated county-wide approach, the program worked to enhance the existing system.  As a result, system integration and alignment has developed over the course of ten years.  

Alameda County has been known for addressing health and equity through innovation, including financial health and entrepreneurship.


In the early 2000s, the service community changed their focus from specific groups, Black and Latino families, to a zip code focus to serve everyone in that catchment area. This change in focus allowed more women to receive prenatal care, resulting with better health outcomes. To address poverty, the Healthy Start Initiative sought to create opportunities for success, using a place-based approach that offers community, family, employment and entrepreneurial activities and food using both traditional and pop-up community programming.

Best Babies Zone (BBZ) has provided two rounds of mini-grants and is preparing for a third round. A six-person committee of residents, partners, and BBZ staff review submitted proposals to innovative, resident-designed programs and opportunities, such as the Daughters without Dads and Community Play Time. BBZ mini-grant projects support neighborhood safety, build community connections, improve education, and drive economic growth.  The mini-grant project also provides opportunity for recipients to share learnings and efforts.


The Monthly Community Market provides neighborhood supports for emerging entrepreneurs, fosters community involvement, shares resources (e.g. distributing coats), and provides programming.


East Oakland Innovators (EOI) Design Thinking program brought together East Oakland residents in 2014 for eight months to explore Castlemont neighborhood challenges such as safety, education, local economy, and community building.  Several toolkits were developed to support the EOI participants’ understanding, brainstorming, and experimentation.  

BBZ collects data on health in the broadest sense to note the social determinants of health that wrap around this historically underserved community. BBZ looks to show health in economic wellbeing, engagement, and initiating ideas.

BBZ and the Alameda County Public Health Department have worked on policy innovations such as eliminating the Asset Limit Test, which too often jeopardizes housing and social services for families working to move toward stabilization.


Best Babies Zone – Castlemont has found that their focus on a zip code area instead of an ethnic group has expanded their outreach and increased their success They offer innovative dual-language program support so that mono-lingual Spanish or English speakers can jointly participate in the same play group.  Similarly, one of their groups created their own version of sign language to share and support each other.

Culturally relevant programming is an essential component of the Best Babies Zone Castlemont and allows them to engage participants in a natural and welcome environment.  


The financial literacy and entrepreneurship efforts of BBZ are a key stratagem to addressing equity in the Castlemont community.  These services are offered through multiple entry points, such as Home Visiting, Community Cafés, Room to Bloom Play Groups, the Mandela Market, and the Alameda County Healthy Start Initiative.


Gentrification and affordable housing are hardships and barriers  expanded programming is working to address , with programming offered within affordable housing a complex.

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