Help Communities Prepare for, Withstand, and Recover From Disaster

Mar 7, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

A $1.4 million funding opportunity is available for community leaders, organizations, and researchers to help us understand the combination of factors that lead to resilient communities.

A home destroyed by a tornado.

Nearly six months ago three catastrophic hurricanes devastated parts of the United States and her territories, and the lives of millions of people in America. Although they were all Category 4+ storms, the impact and aftermath have been markedly different. While the recovery is ongoing, many communities in Texas and Florida are finally returning to normal life: schools are open, transportation systems are running, and homes are being rebuilt. By stark contrast, in parts of Puerto Rico, people are still struggling to survive without clean water and electricity.

What accounts for these differences in recovery? There is plenty of conjecture: people point to the level of damage inflicted, soundness of infrastructure, the condition of the local economy, as well as institutionalized discrimination.

Disasters also come in many forms—natural disasters, to be sure, but also chronic poverty, broad lack of access to health care, and other hardships a community faces. When these adverse factors co-exist, recovery is exponentially harder.

View full post

New Narratives of Hope This Black History Month–And Beyond

Feb 22, 2018, 1:00 PM, Posted by Dwayne Proctor

More than 50 years after the civil rights movement, an RWJF-funded survey shows we still have a lot to do to reduce discrimination and increase health equity. Dwayne Proctor reflects on these findings and the role of stories in the search for solutions.

An older student plays around with a younger student in a school auditorium.

One of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories is watching from my bedroom window as my city burned in the riots that erupted after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 50 years ago.  

The next afternoon, my mother brought me to the playground at my school in Southeast Washington, D.C., which somehow was untouched. As she pushed me in a swing, she asked if I understood what had happened the day before and who Dr. King was.

“Yes,” I said. “He was working to make things better for Negroes like you.”

My mother, whose skin is several tones darker than mine, stared at me in surprise. Somehow, even at 4 years old, I had learned to observe differences in complexion.

That is particularly interesting to me now, as I eventually came to believe that “race” is a social construct.

Of course racism and discrimination exist. They are deeply embedded in America’s history and culture—but so too is the struggle against them.

View full post

Creating a Shared Vision to Help Restore Atlantic City

Feb 20, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Bob Atkins, Diane Hagerman

Atlantic City demonstrates how cross-sector coalitions built on trust are key to healthier communities. A new funding opportunity is seeking similar New Jersey coalitions that are tackling local priorities, especially in low-income communities.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City, New Jersey, is a colorful place with a storied past. Today, its casinos, beaches and boardwalk make it a natural tourist destination, with a transportation infrastructure that puts it within easy reach of millions of people. The many languages spoken in the city are a testament to its vibrant diversity.  

Despite its long-standing status as a tourist destination, the city has not always enjoyed a stellar reputation. Crime rates exceed national averages (although they’ve fallen over the past few years), and unemployment is nearly double the national rate. Gambling hasn’t brought much luck to a place that sits in a county ranked 17th in health outcomes among New Jersey’s 21 counties, according to 2017 County Health Rankings data.

View full post

Three Reasons to Consider Later School Start Times

Feb 8, 2018, 2:00 PM, Posted by Tracy Costigan, Tracy Orleans

Research suggests more sleep for teens could yield significant health and academic benefits. To achieve these benefits, schools across the nation are experimenting with later start times for middle and high schools.

Student overwhelmed with homework.

“I fell asleep on the bus and usually wasn’t really awake until after first period ended,” says Andrew Schatzman, whose school day in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County ("Fairfax") used to begin with a 6:30 a.m. pickup time. When district leaders moved the high school start time to 8:10 a.m., it made a big difference in his life. “He’s still a teenager, so nothing is easy, but now he’s ready to go,” says Andrew’s mom, Liz. “I’m awake enough to do what I have to do in first period,” adds Andrew.

Thanks to this change Andrew starts the school day rested and ready to learn, but millions of U.S. students do not share that experience.

Nearly half (46%) of the U.S. high schools that begin classes before 8 a.m. are filled with teenagers who have not received the 8+ hours of sleep that young people need. As adolescent brains develop, sleep patterns change. It’s a normal, natural occurring physiological milestone. Sleep researchers call it the development of an evening-type circadian phase preference. The rest of us call it becoming a night owl.

Regardless of the terminology, the result is the same: teenagers stay up late. They do not fall asleep sooner if school starts earlier. Instead, they get sleep-deprived.

View full post

How SNAP Benefits Seniors—and Health Care's Bottom Line

Feb 1, 2018, 12:38 PM, Posted by David Adler, Ginger Zielinskie

New research shows that seniors who participate in the SNAP program are much less likely to be admitted to nursing homes and hospitals, demonstrating the power of investing in social services to reduce health care costs and improve health outcomes.

SNAP benefits for health care

The fresh fruit, frozen vegetables and salad Karen Seabolt eats help her “do more of what I need to do to live a better life,” she says. The 66-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, has diabetes and is paralyzed on her right side from a stroke.

As a diabetic, Karen needs to eat the fresh fruits and vegetables her doctors recommend, and the $15 dollars per month she gets from SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—help her do that.

“It really comes in handy towards the end of the month. You may run out of money, but you always have your SNAP benefits. They’re for food only, so you’re not tempted to do without medicine to get food,” she told us.

SNAP benefits go far beyond a healthy meal. We now know that they can be a critical link to lower health care costs and better health for millions of seniors like Karen. A new study suggests—for the first time—that accessing SNAP benefits helps keep low-income seniors out of nursing homes and reduces hospital admissions

View full post

A Community Living Room For Immigrant Families

Jan 25, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Jennifer Lin, Kari Lee

Chinatown is one of San Francisco’s densest neighborhoods, forcing many to live in cramped single-room occupancy hotels known as SROs. The Chinatown YMCA has developed a program to help families in SRO housing build a sense of community with others facing similar circumstances.


Dinnertime is stressful for Ruiyi Li, a married mother of two who lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

She has to wait in line for almost an hour to use a communal kitchen in the building where her family rents a single room for $400 a month.

Then there’s the problem of how to eat the meal. The family’s tight dwelling is slightly wider and longer than the size of a double bed, with no space for a table. Li, her husband, son and daughter must sit one next to the other on the edge of the lower half of a bunk bed, balancing bowls in their laps.

“Dinner is quick and fast,” Li says using the dialect spoken in her southern Chinese hometown of Toishan. “It doesn’t even feel like the family is eating together.”

View full post

Three Traits of Visionary Change Leaders

Jan 12, 2018, 9:00 AM, Posted by Kaytura Felix

We’re seeking new change leaders that embody these important qualities to help us build a healthier nation. If you share these values, consider applying for one of our leadership programs.

Caring Collaborative Committed: Three traits of visionary leaders

My change leadership journey was ignited by a spark of dissatisfaction when I was about 7 or 8 years old, growing up on the small island of Dominica. I walked into a doctor’s office with my mother, brother, and younger sister. My mother called the doctor from the phone in the lobby, and in minutes, we were whisked right into the consulting room, bypassing about two dozen other patients who looked tired and sick.

I imagined that these other families had driven for hours in a truck on dusty, potholed roads to get to this office in Roseau. They waited hours for medical care, only to be forced to wait longer to accommodate the needs of my family. That moment, jumping that line, felt awful. Right then, I decided to become a doctor so that I could make things better for people living in poverty.

View full post

Putting the Needs of the Community Front and Center

Dec 11, 2017, 8:00 AM, Posted by Paul Lindberg

In the rural Columbia Gorge Region of Oregon and Washington, promoting better health for all means asking what community members need, listening to what they say, and including their ideas in programs and services.

Columbia River, town of Hood River.

The Columbia Gorge Region where I live is a vast rural area larger than Connecticut but with a population of only 75,000. While many people here are doing well, others live in poverty, or have to drive long distances to get to a doctor’s office. In this land of fruit orchards, one in five people regularly run out of food.

Mandi Rae Pope was once one of those people. A few years ago, during a difficult pregnancy at the end of her husband’s graduate studies, Pope says she was “counting pennies out of a Mason jar to pay for gas.” She struggled with migraines, and they were getting worse. In the midst of all that, our local Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program gave her a prescription for Veggie Rx, a program we started to provide free fresh fruits and vegetables to people struggling with food insecurity. This was a top concern that community members had identified. By using Veggie Rx, Mandi Rae was able to provide fruit to her toddler son, and the more nutritious diet also helped tame her migraines. Grateful for the help, she wanted to pay if forward and expressed an interest in promoting the program.

View full post

For a Healthier Nation, Let’s Look to Nurses!

Nov 30, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

From the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have applied a holistic approach toward treating patients within the context of their communities. Today, this approach entails promoting and practicing population health. To do so effectively, nurses need supportive educational, policy, research, and workplace environments.

A medical professional checks a woman's blood pressure.

My passion for public health was ignited early on in my career in nursing, serving children and families in St. Louis’ Head Start program. I quickly realized that the health of the individuals for whom I cared depended on a complex mix of factors—including personal choices, the opportunities they had available to them (or not), and the resources within their communities. And my time in St. Louis set me on a career path in nursing that has shown me just how integral a role nurses can play in the health of not just their individual patients, but the broader population.

Nurses have always played a key role in improving our nation’s health and well-being. We see people—not just at different stages of their lives, but also in all of the different places our patients live—using nursing skills and expertise to care for them in many different ways.

View full post

The Farm That's Growing Healthier Generations

Nov 20, 2017, 10:12 AM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Over a million New Jerseyans don’t know where their next meal will come from. A nonprofit farm seeks to change that by working with schools, advocacy groups, distributors and more to bring over a million pounds of fresh produce to low-income communities while educating future generations about healthy eating.


Fourteen-year-old Destiny remembers the spring day when she and a bunch of other kids planted rows of string bean seeds in the dark, loamy earth.

“There was nothing there,” she says, pointing at the dense green plants whose abundant leaves now shelter countless sweet, crunchy pods.

Today, Destiny is back here—with a couple dozen other children—to harvest the beans and bring them home for dinner. Later, the children will add freshly picked nectarines, cucumbers, and green peppers to their goodie bags. They’ll also go home with recipes for preparing those foods.

It’s one in a series of Kids Farm Days at America’s Grow-a-Row, a nonprofit farm in Pittstown, Hunterdon County, N.J., that provides fresh produce to people in underserved communities, as well as hands-on education to kids about healthy eating.

View full post