Category Archives: United Way
A study released this fall in the American Journal of Public Health looks at a critical evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program led by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. The United Way catalyzed critical partnerships between schools, community organizations and the Milwaukee Health Department to focus on the goal of reducing teen pregnancies.
In 2008, United Way of Greater Milwaukee, together with its partners, made a public commitment to reduce teen births among 15- to 17-year-olds by 46 percent by 2015. In October 2011, the City of Milwaukee and United Way announced the fourth consecutive yearly drop in the teen birth rate, by 13.5 percent, to its lowest level in decades. The current trend indicates that the partners are on track to reach their goal of 30 births per 1,000 (a 46 percent drop) by 2015.
Initiatives to support these goals include:
- Significant investments in programs through the Healthy Girls project that helps young people understand the consequences of teen pregnancy while also teaching them the skills needed to cope with social pressure to engage in sexual activity.
- A collaboration with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin residents to develop content for a youth-focused, website, Baby Can Wait, with medically accurate and age-appropriate content on preventing pregnancy and promoting healthy relationships.
- United Way worked with Milwaukee Public Schools and other community leaders to revise human growth and development curriculum. Community members were given an opportunity to review the materials and make suggestions about content, and teachers received training in the new curriculum.
NewPublicHealth caught up with Nicole Angresano, Vice President at United Way of Greater Milwaukee, to get her take on the program’s successes and what other communities can learn from them.
NewPublicHealth: What is different about this effort to focus on teen pregnancy for your community?
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has announced a second round of grant winners for the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants. The grants support two-year state and local collaborative efforts among policymakers, business, education, health care, public health and community organizations, and are managed by Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization. The goal of the grants is to create positive policy or systems changes that address the social and economic factors that impact the health of people in their community.
The grants build on the model of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, which highlights the critical role that factors such as education, jobs, income and the environment play in influencing how healthy people are and how long they live. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is a collaboration of RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Four of the new grants have been awarded to projects spearheaded by United Way organizations in several states.
The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants are:
- Demonstrating how a range of partners from multiple sectors in a community can work together to take actionable data such as the County Health Rankings and begin addressing the multiple social or economic determinants of health in a community.
- Focusing on collaboration and action at the policy or system-change level.
- Getting grant partners in fields such as education, employment or community safety to think of themselves as part of the work of the public health community.
What do you call a phone number that helps assess your needs—even if that need is for heat and food, after a hurricane has destroyed your home? In New Jersey and throughout the nation, you call that number 2-1-1.
A growing number of cities have established 2-1-1 call centers that connect people to essential services such as employment training, help for an older parent, addiction prevention and affordable housing options. During Hurricane Sandy, the call centers also directed people to shelters, food, government resources, and, if needed, a mental health counselor to listen and comfort. In the aftermath of the storm calls to the service have increased at least 400 percent, says Laura Zink Marx, director of operations for the NJ 2-1-1 Partnership and chair of the 2-1-1US Steering committee, a volunteer role. The New Jersey 2-1-1 Partnership is a subsidiary of the United Way of New Jersey.
“Probably the most common question,” says Marx, “is, ‘when will my power be back on?’ If you have internet access you can keep looking at interactive maps that show you how much progress utility companies have made, though millions are still without power. But if you have no electricity, and no way to access information, you just feel abandoned and scared. We’re getting those calls and sharing the information as it’s updated.”
Marx says the 2-1-1 line in New Jersey is also letting people know where the food pantries are in their neighborhood and, by tracking call origins, can also provide the aggregate data to the food bank to see where the need is the greatest. Volunteers have been loaned by Americorps and many are fielding rumors perpetuated by social media, says Marx. A common one: FEMA is not giving out $300 food vouchers but it is standing up mobile kitchens. Operators tell callers how to find the closest ones.
Just before Superstorm Sandy hit, NewPublicHealth spoke with Laura Marx about the impact the 2-1-1 line is having in New Jersey. Despite her recent sleepless days and nights, Marx also updated us on the call line’s response in the wake of the storm and the subsequent Storm Athena.
NewPublicHealth: What is the 2-1-1 project in New Jersey and how did United Way get involved?
Laura Marx: The 2-1-1 concept began about 15 years ago, even before September 11th. United Ways have always had an information referral component within their organization for probably the last 35 years. That’s an important resource for us to help connect people with services in their local community.
As thousands of people who are striving to improve health and health care convene in San Francisco, Calif., for the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, RWJF is hosting brief interviews with thought leaders from across sectors. Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, provided his thoughts on partnerships.
NewPublicHealth also spoke with Stacey Stewart, who was recently named to the new position of president of United Way USA. She was previously the executive Vice President, Community Impact Leadership and Learning at United Way Worldwide. Stewart shared her goals for UnitedWay USA, as well as what she's learned about the integral connections between education, income and health.
United Way of North Central Florida is focused on the building blocks that lead to a good quality of life – education, income and health – recognizing that communities are stronger when children are successful in school, families are financially stable and people are healthy. One of their primary roles is as a convener, to bring hundreds of organizations together across diverse sectors to set priorities and create change.
As part of our series looking at the work of United Ways across the nation in creating healthier communities, we spoke with Debbie Mason, President and CEO of the United Way of North Central Florida, and Mona Gil de Gibaja, Vice President of Community Impact, about their community planning process, strategies for effective partnerships, and the role of critical partners such as businesses and the local health department.
NewPublicHealth: What is the planning process you’re engaging in to set priorities around education, income and health?
Debbie Mason: Our major focus is education, but this is so inextricably linked to income and health. No matter where you start, you still wrap into the other two.
In 2004, the United Way of Santa Cruz County, the Children’s Network and several other community based organizations convened over 150 local agencies representing a wide array of sectors to create a comprehensive plan to address the rising rates of childhood overweight in Santa Cruz County.
Go For Health! partners include schools, parents, health care professionals, local media, local markets/businesses, city planners, community based non-profits, and local and state policy-makers—as well as the affected youth themselves—working together to effect long-term change in reducing the rates of obesity by enacting changes in the community such as improving healthy food offerings at restaurants and markets, and increasing transportation options.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Megan Joseph, director of community organizing, and Kymberly Lacrosse, community organizer, both at United Way of Santa Cruz County, as well as Lynn Robinson, Santa Cruz City Council Member and Santa Cruz County Metro Board Member, about the initiative.
NewPublicHealth: How did Go For Health! come about, and how did you come to focus on prevention and creating a healthier community?
Megan Joseph: Go For Health! was convened by the United Way of Santa Cruz County, the Children’s Network and a few other organizations in 2004 who were starting to notice the upward trend in childhood obesity across the county, which wasn’t different from what was happening across the nation. Our community came together to start taking some real steps to address the issue. Representatives from over 150 local agencies gathered in that first year to start looking at best practices and what was really working to address childhood obesity beyond a nutrition education and direct service approach. That’s when they started to learn about a cross-sector approach and the idea of environmental prevention, which takes a unified, big picture strategy to address such a large public health issue that has so many pieces and different causes.
NPH: You were able to convene 150 different agencies and many of which were from different sectors. Why is that so important to think about bringing in different kinds of partners to the table?
Kymberly Lacrosse: When you’re looking at a problem in a community that affects so many different people in so many different areas, it’s really important to have as many perspectives as possible in the collaboration and participating in problem solving. We believe that really helps look at it on a deeper level and you’re more likely to have greater success in long-term sustainable changes. Having schools and local community organizations and community members and county and city government and many, many, many more in collaboration has definitely been important.
Lynn Robinson: From my perspective, and being someone that is on the Santa Cruz City Council, to feel like I have a partnership role in this as an elected official does two things. One, where it’s appropriate or where we can, we can help with resources. But also, partnering across sectors makes a statement about who your community is and that you recognize the issues in your community. So even if it can’t be a monetary contribution, there’s still a lot of different ways that you can be participating.
As these interesting partnerships develop, the work blossoms. It becomes something bigger than you imagined because everyone sees the role that they get to play—as small or as big as it might be. Every one of those roles are integral to success. All the pieces together, as Kymberly described, makes it work. There’s a value in that because you never know how successful the end result can truly be until you plug in that one more partner.
Kymberly Lacrosse: Your partnership can be so powerful when the people that are partnering are really invested and committed, because there’s a deeper commitment and a bigger vision that everybody is participating in and working towards.
NPH: What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in fostering these kinds of committed, engaged partnerships?
Megan Joseph: A particular example in Watsonville is a youth leadership component there called Jóvenes SANOS [“Healthy Youth” in Spanish]. I just saw a clip from the city council meeting where they passed the restaurant ordinance there and a couple of the council members in that meeting spoke very directly to the power of the youth, who are their constituents and the people that the problemof childhood obesity is affecting the most. The youth brought the problem to these policy-makers and asked them to use their power to help do something about this issue. That really created some champions in the city council because they had real people bringing real stories to them and showing them that they could make a difference. They have been strong partners ever since.
>> Watch a video of Jóvenes SANOS at work.
Lynn Robinson: I can speak to that too, and using that same example. I sat with Jovenes SANOS and asked them a couple of questions and saw how deep their commitment is and how engaged they are. I’m almost tearing up as I sit in my own little office here because it is so inspiring. You recognize if there’s something I can do to help them, they’re going to take this a long way. It’s going to really transform their lives as they see that their action can make a difference, and it will change the lives of the people that really need this in their lives to make healthy choices. To me, there isn’t anything better than that.
NPH: Can you talk a little bit more about the role of the city council and basically what you worked on with the Santa Cruz County Metro Board?
Lynn Robinson: The youth have created a new Healthy Vending policy that they will bring to the metro board that sets reasonable expectations about changes that we could make throughout our transit system for healthy choices for all of our patrons. In theory the policy is focusing on increasing choices for youth, but it really benefits everybody. It’s really exciting because they’re going to make a model policy that’s not been used before in the transit agencies and that will probably go statewide and beyond. That is pretty powerful stuff.
NPH: What were some of their recommendations?
Kymberly Lacrosse: We are following recommendations we’ve made through our Healthy Corner Markets project, where we worked with markets on carrying healthier products and placing them near the register. We also passed the Healthy Restaurant Ordinance in Watsonville last year, which was also one of the first of its kind in the nation. It says that all new and incoming restaurants within the city of Watsonville have to have a certain number of healthy options on their menu. We use a point system to do that and most of them are pretty easy to accomplish, like having a low fat dressing or a whole grain bread and things like that. We have also looked at other Healthy Vending policies where vending machines carry at least 50 percent healthy options. We are looking at carrying some of these best practices and policies over into the Healthy Vending policy with the Metro Board. We’re trying to be very mindful of the economic climate, partnering with vendors and market owners to make this policy work for them, while also working to keep the healthy options affordable.
NPH: Can you talk a little bit about United Way’s role as a convener?
Kymberly Lacrosse: One is building relationships through one on one conversations and meetings with people that we think would be interested in partnering with us on an issue. Initially there’s definitely a time investment in building these relationships and letting people know what the issue is. When you take the time to really sit down that definitely makes a difference.
It’s also about making it personal. We try to connect an abstract problem that maybe people aren’t consciously thinking about to real life. That makes it real.
Megan Joseph: We really see community engagement as being central to our work. We have our three goal areas of financial stability for all families, health and the success of our youth. So many issues in the community cross all three areas so we really see we need to build those relationships to address all of the issues we work on. If we build one relationship in one area, we know that relationship will sustain and be able to be leveraged when we’re trying to do a different project. We really see ourselves as the neutral conveners of the community around issues and rely on the wisdom of the community to then direct how we address those issues.
NPH: How do you see your approach to healthier communities as a way to reduce health disparities?
Megan Joseph: We are currently dealing with a report that just came out today, for example, that showed us childhood obesity statistics by city, which is the first time that’s ever been done. It showed that our childhood obesity rates in Watsonville, which is in Santa Cruz County, is at 49.3 percent and if you look at the rest of the County it’s at about 31 percent. That’s a huge disparity, and it just further concretizes why we focus a lot of our funding dollars and a lot of our attention on Watsonville. It’s a countywide issue but those kinds of numbers are what really tells us that yes, Watsonville needs extra attention. Jovenes SANOS is one way we’re empowering the very youth who are affected by the issue the most, by taking an approach of not “let’s help the people that need it,” but “how can we empower them to take the lead and solve this problem?”
NPH: What have been some of the successes so far?
Megan Joseph: Our Community Assessment Project involves a community survey every other year and really gives us in-depth information about where our community is on a lot of different measures. Something that we saw in the 2011 report was that vegetable and fruit consumption by Latino people in Santa Cruz had increased by 12 percent from the year before, which was a huge testament to the work we’re doing to try to make healthy food more accessible. We aren’t seeing the numbers in the actual obesity rates yet or the diabetes rates yet, but we’re seeing it in some of the other behaviors that could lead that way.
NPH: And what’s next?
Kymberly Lacrosse: We’re continually working on engaging people at the community level to build capacity and create strong leadership, something that we talk about often. When we’re working on a problem, we’re really working on creating momentum and a movement so that it is sustainable and it does continue above and beyond us.
Lynn Robinson: There’s a whole other community piece to that about being with the farmers and being with people that are growing the food. I think that’s another partnership that we should start talking about.
Overall,I look at what is getting accomplished and what is getting done and it’s amazing.
Mobilizing Communities Toward Better Health, Income and Education: Q&A With United Way's Brian Gallagher
United Way Worldwide has evolved from its roots as a fundraising organization to a critical community convener that mobilizes local partners, including businesses, community leaders, public officials and community residents, to expand opportunities for people to live healthy, quality lives. United Way focuses on three key building blocks: a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health. With support from United Way Worldwide, 12 United Ways across the country have formed the United Way network’s first Health Mobilization Group. This peer-learning community will use the County Health Rankings framework to work with the residents, external experts and stakeholders to drive systems change to improve health and health equity in their communities.
NewPublicHealth will conduct an in-depth series on the work of United Way on the ground to improve health, education and income. The series will include Q&As with thought leaders as well as those advancing initiatives at the community level: the leaders in local United Way organizations and their communities. We kick off this series with a conversation with United Way Worldwide President and CEO, Brian Gallagher, MBA, about the organization’s priorities, key partners and methods for mobilizing communities for social change.
NewPublicHealth: United Way focuses on three key issues: education, income and health. Why are these the most critical issues, and how do they work together to impact quality of life?