The CHIP, with support from the philanthropic community, led by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, put in motion a number of efforts to build a more equitable community: increasing the number of leaders in the city engaged in anti-racism work and of medical professionals providing care for culturally diverse, low-income patients at community health centers; reducing youth violence and violent arrests; and creating a strong summer recreation program that bolsters child well-being by providing teen employment and three meals daily to children who participate. The local YWCA is a national leader in anti-racism and gender equity, while living in the nonprofit, Living in Freedom Together, has helped survivors of the sex trade access substance abuse treatment, counseling, and other resources.
Though partners in Worcester are certainly not done yet, City Manager Ed Augustus said winning the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize “is a great validation of the work the community has been doing.”
The city’s commitment to equity has not faltered since 2013. For example, using data to identify disparities in access to nutritious food, Worcester launched a mobile farmers market, sending fresh produce to food deserts. And in response to the COVID-19 crisis, leaders across sectors created an equity task force that, among other steps it took to reduce infection, launched a traveling vaccine equity clinic that visited neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.
“We sent our resources where the data showed they were needed,” said Gina Plata-Nino, a Community Legal Aid attorney and volunteer at the Worcester Together Coalition, a group formed to support the COVID-19 response. Volunteer translators from the Southeast Asian Coalition and other organizations helped staff explain the vaccine’s benefits to residents not fluent in English.
In partnership with local researchers, Worcester also has focused on tracing the social determinants of health and root causes affecting people’s well-being and creating disparities across health outcomes. For example, Laurie Ross, a professor at Clark University in Worcester, examined juvenile arrest data in the city and found a significant number of arrests were for a young person assaulting another person in their home. Ross and the Worcester Youth Violence Prevention Initiative—a coalition of government and nonprofit partners launched in 2015—convinced Worcester’s district attorney to divert young people involved in these cases to a clinical program that provides supportive services to youth and their families. Recidivism rates are down, an important step toward breaking the cycle of incarceration.