RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize Winners Announced: Working Across Sectors to Boost Community Health

Feb 21, 2013, 10:30 AM

New Orleans A renewed focus on schools promoting good health in New Orleans, La. included cooking classrooms, gardens and new physical activity programs.

“If what our mothers told us is true, that we’d be known by the company we keep, then our mothers would be very happy today,” said Mary Lou Goeke, executive director of the United Way of Santa Cruz, as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) presented her and her partnership team an RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize—one of six awarded for the first time yesterday. Awards were given to teams made up of leaders in many sectors who were recognized for innovations that are improving the health and lives of the people in their communities.  

“These prize winners represent leadership at its finest—trailblazers creating a culture of health,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF President and CEO.

Fall River Along the shore of the Quequechan River in Fall River, Mass., a walking and biking path will soon be extended to encourage physical activity.

New videos shot on location highlight specific innovations in each community including:

  • A community health educator hired by the Sault Tribe in Manistique, Mich., who became a health leader for the whole community
  • A youth-led city-wide ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies in Fall River, Mass.
  • An initiative to make New Orleans, La., one of the fittest cities in America by 2018, just twelve years after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city
  • Culturally diverse healthy meals at schools in Cambridge, Mass., critical in a community with 65 languages
  • A youth advocacy group in Santa Cruz County, Calif., who realized there were no healthy food options near their school and spurred the approval of an ordinance that requires new restaurants and transportation stations to offer and highlight healthy options
  • The Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, Minn., where families move through a cradle to career pipeline so that high-risk youth graduate from high school ready for college
Cambridge In Cambridge, Mass., literacy ambassadors help kids from all backgrounds come to school ready to learn, and workshops help build parenting skills for new parents.

What unites the teams, and holds promise for similar efforts across the U.S., said participants in yesterday’s prize event, are the collaborations fostered in each community to improve health including leaders from government, business, public health, health care and education.

The RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize is part of the Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, begun in 2009 in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The Rankings are a health snapshot of the many factors that influence health.

Each winning team of the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize sent six representatives to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation campus in Princeton for some celebration as well as multiple learning sessions that let prize winners ask questions of their peers. Stories shared resonated across communities, such as when Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager of the City of Cambridge, talked about the city’s police chief as an unexpected but enthusiastic and vital partner for several programs.

file A Santa Cruz County, Calif. youth-led initiative spurred the approval of an ordinance that requires new restaurants and transportation stations to offer and highlight healthy options.

“These communities show other towns and neighborhoods that it can be done,” said Georges S. Benjamin, MD, MPH, executive director of the American Public Health Association and an RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize Advisory Group Member. “While they may model efforts slightly different in their own communities, we can see that they can be replicated by promoting behavior changes among leaders, some seed money and even if resources are limited, spending the money you do have differently.”

file Recognizing the impact of economic opportunity and academic achievement on health, Venture North Bike and Coffee in Minneapolis, Minn. provides youth employment opportunities and bike sales/repair services.

During breaks team members from all the winning cities found themselves to be rock stars, with peers waiting to ask a question or share a story. And all came prepared to share strategies.

“What I think a lot of other communities can learn from us is about the importance of systems change, such as making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Megan Joseph, the director of community organizing for the United Way of Santa Cruz.

file A new coordinated school health plan provides Manistique, Mich. kids with healthy breakfasts and quality physical education.

During the award acceptances and formal and informal gatherings, each team stressed the many people back home who had been part of the collaborations. “We could have brought a few busloads of people to share in this award, and we know the rest of you could have as well,” said Wendy Garf-Lipp executive director of the United Neighbors of Fall River, as she accepted their award.

The six teams were selected from among 160 applications from across the U.S. The call for applications for year two of the prize will be released, together with the 2013 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, on March 20, 2013.

>>Learn more about the six prize winning communities:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.