Today, the summit exemplifies Sitka’s collaborative approach to improving wellness. The group regularly assesses community health needs and holds an annual planning day, open to the public, where residents identify two goals to focus on in the year ahead. A monthly wooch.een—“working together” in the local native language of Tlingit—health networking lunch promotes coordination and partnerships while keeping the momentum going year-round.
In Sitka, “There’s a ton of energy in finding a path forward,” says Chandler O’Connell, community catalyst at Sitka Conservation Society and a member of the coalition behind the summit. “People want solutions that are sustainable and that steward this place.”
Great ideas can come from anyone and can address anything that impacts well-being. When possible, agreed-upon goals are acted on quickly. At the planning day in October 2018, then-high school senior Dakota Peavey and several classmates suggested Sitka could use a teen center with free activities to help young people avoid substances and connect to others in healthy ways. By August 2019, a new teen-run center called The Cloud opened, thanks to organizing by students at Sitka’s Pacific High School and fundraising by several partners, especially the nonprofit Youth Advocates of Sitka.
Other health goals Sitkans have successfully pursued over the years include becoming a more bike-friendly community, introducing fresh-caught local fish into school meals, beautifying downtown Sitka, building a new accessible community playground, launching a series of conversations about historical trauma and becoming a more trauma-informed community, supporting Sitka’s growing population of seniors, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Winning the Culture of Health Prize will help solidify Sitka’s identity as a healthy community, says coalition member Holly Marban, a SEARHC health educator.
“It doesn’t mean we have all the answers,” she says. “But my hope is it will spark Sitkans to embody that identity and invest even further in their own personal health and that of the community.”