Category Archives: Community development

Jul 17 2014
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2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prizes — Celebrating Communities’ Innovative Public Health Efforts

Building a Culture of Health means building a society where getting healthy and staying healthy is a fundamental and guiding social value that helps define American culture...and it’s a mission that communities across the country are eagerly taking on. They include the six communities honored by this year’s Culture of Health prizes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), who are coming together today and tomorrow at RWJF’s Princeton, N.J. campus to celebrate their efforts and share the lessons learned. Picked from more than 250 submissions, these six communities are leading some of the nation’s most innovative public health efforts. 

The RWJF Culture of Health Prize was launched to further the work of the County Healthy Rankings & Roadmaps program, which aims to educate the public and policy makers on the multiple factors that influence community health—such as education, economic conditions and the physical environment—and to provide solutions that will improve community health. The prizes honor communities that place a high priority on health and bring partners together to drive local change.

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Jun 27 2014
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Aspen Ideas Festival: Communities That Thrive

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This Thursday at Spotlight: Health, the two-and-a-half day extension of the Aspen Ideas Festival, a number of speakers discussed the many facets that are integral to building a community that thrives. Speakers included Kennedy Odede, the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities; Belinda Reininger, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science and the University of Texas School of Public Health; Gabe Klein, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Urban Land Institute; and Gina Murdock, Founder and Director of the Aspen Yoga Society.

Although the communities they serve and the work they do vary greatly, all four presenters agreed on four key themes:

  1. The importance of listening to the community
  2. Working with the residents, rather than over their heads, to create what they believe will be a thriving place to live
  3. Measuring outcomes
  4. Setting goals

To the first theme, Odede explained that “people in the community must be ready for change and we can’t import it.” Growing up in Kenya’s Kiberia Slum, Odede went on to found Shining Hope For Communities—an organization that combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking free schools for girls to holistic community services for all. By connecting these services with a school for girls, Odede and Shining Hope for Communities show that benefiting women has a positive impact on the entire community. The organization’s model relies on community input and solutions.

In Brownsville, Texas, a family-oriented town requires a family-oriented approach to improving health. Sitting in one of the poorest metro areas in the nation, the town is known for its low graduation rates and high prevalence of obesity and diabetes. However, the community had a goal of being one of the healthiest areas in the state and began chipping away at the obstacles by including all residents.

“Everything we do is driven by families,” said Reininger. “We wanted to be the healthiest area in the state, and to get there we all had to be part of it.”

Brownsville is beginning to see improvements across the community in physical activity and food choice. In fact, the thriving and changing community has been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as one of this year’s Culture of Health prize winners. 

Gabe Klein, who in addition to his work with the Urban Land Institute is a former Vice President of Zipcar, spoke about the importance of communication in affecting community change. “In Chicago, we never talked about bike lanes for the sake of bike lanes, we talked about opportunities for better health and ways to get where you’re going,” said Klein. “You have to communicate the larger vision.”

The session moderator, RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, stressed the importance of goal setting and metrics. According to Lavizzo-Mourey, defining a vision is critical to success and measurements lead you to the outcomes you are trying to reach.

Jun 16 2014
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Recommended Reading: America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids

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“At 10 a.m. on any given morning, the kids at low-income San Francisco schools are starting to fidget. Their teachers report they’re having trouble concentrating, asking how long ‘til they eat...Then the snacks arrive, delivered by volunteers from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. They serve string cheese one week; baby carrots, mandarin oranges or apple slices the next.”

Because of this and other programs, Marin County, Calif. tops the U.S. News & World Report’s new rankings of “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids,” part of its annual guide on the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals. The new rankings, for children 18 and younger, are calculated in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which also evaluates health data for the U.S. population as part of its  County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The rankings analyze U.S. counties according to several key measures, including:

  • Infant deaths
  • Low birth weight babies
  • Deaths from injuries
  • Teen births
  • Children in poverty
  • Percentage of children without health insurance
  • Air quality in most states
  • Rates of adult smoking and adult obesity
  • Access to physicians
  • Exercise opportunities

In addition to the rankings, the U.S. News story also highlights six communities that have made significant advancements toward improving the health of their kids, including:

  • Santa Clara, Calif., where a policy stipulates that 50 percent of food and beverages sold in countywide vending machines must meet nutrition guidelines.
  • Washington County, R.I., where the policy organization Kids Count is dedicated to improving children’s health, education, economic well-being and safety.
  • Middlesex County, Mass., which includes the city of Cambridge—one of RWJF’s Culture of Health Prize winners last year—and where fun physical education classes keep kids active while healthy school meals celebrate cultural diversity.

Read the full story, “America's 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids.”

May 14 2014
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Recommended Reading: A Church Prepares for Disaster by Engaging in the Every Day

Hurricane season—which officially starts in two weeks—has become a time of year for individuals, communities and organizations to assess their state of readiness for withstanding and surviving a disaster.

A recent Atlantic Cities article profiled a model to follow: the Providence Baptist Church in the Bayview community of San Francisco. Led by local pastor GL Hodge, who has both big box retail and crisis experience, the church has monthly resiliency meetings to establish a local response, and has provided CPR and disaster training to church members through the American Red Cross. The church has also worked to develop community trust by providing after school programs, weekly dinners, a weekly food bank and a shelter on the church grounds that sleeps more than 100 people every night.

Steps to help try to prevent large scale death and injury if an earthquake or other disaster hits include distribution of plastic bags to seniors to store their medicines and ID if they need to evacuate; placards that fit on door knobs indicating if they’re OK or need help in the event of a disaster; and a proposal that would use community development funds to train young men how to strengthen the foundations of senior’s homes, which would improve the chance that the structures would survive a disaster.

“We’re preparing a culture of preparedness,” says Hodge.

Read the full story here.

>>Bonus Link: Read a previous NewPublicHealth interview with Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Apr 30 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Jefferson County, Alabama

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Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve the social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. “Addressing upstream causes of poor health, such as issues related to employment, education, poverty, and housing and environmental health risks through community action, policy development, and measuring the indicators associated with these determinants of health, are at the heart of our Place Matters work,” said the project’s program director, Autumn Saxton-Ross, PhD.

Nineteen Place Matters teams are currently working in 27 jurisdictions. This week NewPublicHealth will be highlighting six teams, chosen by Ross as representing both what needs to be fixed and what can be done.

file Jefferson County Place Matters team members take part in Food Day

Jefferson County, Alabama is the most populous county in the state. The Place Matters team, headquartered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, found that the county leads the nation in chronic diseases and conditions linked to premature death, disability, decreased productivity and high health care costs. The leading causes of death in the county are heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the county also exceeds state and national rates for obesity.

“At the heart of the Jefferson County Place Matters Team is a commitment to empowerment and civic engagement,” said team leader Monica Baskin, PhD, as associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alabama/Birmingham Nutrition and Obesity Research Center. The team works to improve the social determinants of health by:

  • Informing and illuminating public policy debates via research, analysis and information dissemination
  • Building capacity of community leaders
  • Facilitating community action planning and implementation.

Baskin, who has led the team for two and half years, said it has so far focused on improving access to healthy, affordable foods; physical activity opportunities; and obesity-related issues. The team also released a health equity report about the county, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham campaign, a touchstone moment in the U.S. civil rights movement.

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Mar 26 2014
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County Health Rankings 2014: Western New York

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The County Health Rankings, a joint project between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.

One of the communities highlighted in the 2014 report is Western New York. Across eight counties, the region struggles with a depressed economy and high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

They used the County Health Rankings to better understand their challenges and look at what types of programs and initiatives would help.

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Innovative community partnerships include a Baby Café Program where moms can get breastfeeding support and connections to community resources to ensure every baby has a healthy start; a Healthy Streets initiative to create better infrastructure for a healthy community; and a Farm to School Program to support healthier schools. The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings continues to show us where we live matters to our health.

Mar 26 2014
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County Health Rankings 2014: Rockingham County, N.C.

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The County Health Rankings, a joint project between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.

One of the communities highlighted in the 2014 report is Rockingham County, North Carolina. The community went from a wealthy county to a poor one very quickly after losing two major industries only a couple of decades ago.  

The population of about 90,000 suffers from high smoking rates, high obesity rates and high rates of smoking during pregnancy. When the 2010 County Health Rankings were released, the community's poor standing served as a wake-up call, and only a few years later the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust became involved and the county started to expand the conversation, looking at health as more than simply health care access.

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Innovative community programs include the Virtual Farmer's Market, which gives local farmers a new market for their products while also providing them with an education on how to reach out using technology as a means for boosting small business; a planned partnership between Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine and the New Reidsville Public Housing Authority; and the planned Nurse-Family Partnership Program, which will pair home visiting nurses with at-risk moms and children up until the age of two. The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings continues to show us where we live matters to our health.

Mar 26 2014
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County Health Rankings 2014: Grant County, Kentucky

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The County Health Rankings, a joint project between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.

One of the communities highlighted in the 2014 report is Grant County, Kentucky. The county has seen tremendous progress in its overall health outcomes and the health rankings, moving up from 89th to 60th place this past year relative to the state's other counties.  

The rural county — a "land of horses and tobacco farms" — has found that partnerships to improve health are absolutely essential, and that one of the advantages that smaller, more rural communities have is that it's relatively easy to bring together the business community, the churches, the schools and other groups.

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Innovative community programs include Fitness for Life Around Grant County, or FFLAG, which led the company Performance Pipe to provide employees with healthier food options; the four-week Biggest Winner Challenge, which focuses on getting people to try out different kinds of physical activity; and tobacco-free policies on school campuses. The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings continues to show us where we live matters to our health.

Feb 28 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Chris Zimmerman

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As the demand for walkable communities keeps growing, experts are moving from asking “If they build it, will they come?” to questioning how to fund the new developments, as well as keeping our eyes on issues such as transit, affordability and improving population health. As of January sharing best practices for those and many other issues is the job of Chris Zimmerman, who recently joined the staff of Smart Growth America as Vice President for Economic Development, following a very long stint as a member of the Arlington County Board in Virginia. Before his post in Arlington, Zimmerman was Chief Economist and Committee Director for Federal Budget and Taxation at the National Conference of State Legislatures. In his new role, Zimmerman will focus on the relationships between smart growth strategies and the economic and fiscal health of communities.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Zimmerman soon after he landed in his new office.

NewPublicHealth: What did you do before joining Smart Growth America?

Chris Zimmerman: For the last 18 years I’ve been a member of the Arlington County Board, the governing body of Arlington County, Virginia, an urban county of about 220,000 people right next to Washington D.C. The county functions as a comprehensive local government, with functions from school funding to land use and development to standard municipal functions such as parks and recreation, public safety, waste removal and managing public infrastructure. We don’t run the schools, but the funds for the schools are part of the county budget, at a cost of a little more than $1 billion annually.

Arlington County has become a model for transit-oriented development that is studied by folks around the country and even around the world, particularly because of the way the county has chosen to develop around the Metro system. That includes the initial commitment to be involved in Metro Rail, to fund underground Metro stations and then to focus development around them, beginning even before the ideas of the vocabulary of Smart Growth and urbanism had really gotten started, decades ago.

Prior to serving on the county board, I served on the county’s planning commission and a number of other commissions. So I’ve had about 20 to 25 years of involvement in the development of every aspect of the community, including housing, planning development and economic development, and even agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro Rail and Metro Bus and every other regional transportation planning body there is here in Washington. I was involved in a lot of regional transportation issues that obviously were fundamental to our county because of the way we chose to develop and because of where we’re located. There are seven crossings of the Potomac River and five of them go through Arlington, so although there are a couple hundred thousand people in Arlington, there’s a million and a half or so in northern Virginia and large numbers of them go through Arlington every day.

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Jan 30 2014
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: James McDonough, Chair of NACo's Healthy Counties Initiative

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NewPublicHealth is on the ground at the NACo 2014 Healthy Counties Initiative Forum. The theme of the forum this year is “Improving Health in a Climate of Change.” Ahead of the meeting we spoke with James McDonough, county commissioner in Ramsey, Minn., and chair of the Healthy Counties initiative about the meeting and the health changes he is seeing at the county level.

NewPublicHealth: Can you tell us how the NACo Healthy Counties Initiative got its start?

James McDonough: Three years ago the president of NACo at that time, Lenny Eliason, from Athens County, Ohio, really was concerned about how the majority of health care dollars were being spent on treating preventable conditions and the whole issue of the wellbeing of our constituents and our employees. So he elevated the issue of wellness and health in counties as a presidential initiative. Typically those are short term and last for a year or two, but NACo has embraced this and has continued this on as a task force to really embed it in the work that we do—elevating how counties can have an impact on wellness in communities.

NPH: What are the current goals?

McDonough: To really elevate and get the county commissioners and county managers throughout the country to just pause and take a look at what they're doing and what they could be doing. We’ve been talking about how we can do a better job supporting counties that are already doing great work in this area and helping share those best practices, and then helping counties that haven’t really taken a look at what their role is. That can help us have a better impact on getting ahead of some of the major preventable diseases in our communities.

NPH: How important is county-level action when it comes to health?

McDonough: For the most part, counties really are responsible for the public health departments within their communities. Throughout the country we operate almost 1,000 county hospitals and close to 700 county nursing homes, so we have a lot of responsibility for public health and—just as important—we employ more than 30 million people throughout the country.

Action, responsibility and efforts vary county to county, but for example, in Ramsey County, Minnesota, where I’m the County Commissioner, we run the public health department working with our cities, the state and with the federal government. So for us it’s a really big opportunity to be the convener as well to lead the Healthy Cities Initiatives as well to a larger regional more focused and concentrated effort.

NPH: The focus of the forum includes some critical topics such as behavioral health and key health issues in jails. How much of a financial burden do these health issues place on counties?

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