2020–2021 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner
From Businesses to Library to Schools, Addison’s All In for Health
In Addison, Illinois, 20 miles west of Chicago in DuPage County, a central plaza houses three buildings: the library, Village Hall, and the administrative office for the school district that includes the village’s high school. The heart of Addison’s collaborative approach to improving health—what people here call the “Addison advantage”—beats in this bustling town center. And it pulses through businesses, nonprofits, homes, parks, and clinics across the village of 37,000 people.
“The strength of Addison is our community partnerships,” said Dr. Jean Barbanente, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88. “Whether it’s about academics, physical health, social-emotional needs, or equity and inclusion, we’re able to support all aspects of health through the relationships we have with organizations across Addison.”
Building Addison Resources Connect (ARC) was key to forming networks of support throughout the village. The consortium launched during the 2004-2005 school year as a collaborative effort of DuPage High School District 88 and local businesses to connect education leaders and business owners and support students and the community. As partners recognized a growing need to connect with families, ARC evolved. Today, it’s a network of businesses, schools, social services providers, nonprofits, government agencies, and others. Together, they identify systems and approaches that use Addison's strengths to promote health for all.
ARC has given way to many valuable partnerships, and residents play a leading role in shaping efforts. For example, parents worked with the Addison Early Childhood Collaborative (AECC), a community hub supporting families with kids from birth to age five, to help its services and supports better reflect parents’ needs and hopes. AECC then tapped into the ARC network to meet families where they are—such as laundromats and the library—and streamline access to early childhood education resources in the village.
The library has been a key connector for residents seeking resources, including teens in search of free mental health counseling. There’s also a full-time librarian dedicated to business owners and people seeking employment, and Addison’s library is the first in the state accredited to provide immigration services.
“Through ARC, we’ve been able to pull together our resources and work collaboratively to create and achieve our shared goals for the community,” said Elizabeth Lynch, head of teen services at Addison Public Library.
To help reduce rates of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies among teens, the health department worked alongside the library to pilot an evidence-based sexual health education curriculum. Resident feedback from parents and teens, collected from English- and Spanish-language focus groups, influenced the curriculum and informed the creation of additional educational programming on mental and sexual health. Since the program’s inception, teen use of the local family health center has increased by 50 percent.
Today, more than 40 percent of Addison residents are Hispanic, and one-third were born outside the United States. People in Addison recognize this evolution in the community, and they’re building an environment that supports residents marginalized by racism and discrimination. School is one setting where the community welcomes diverse perspectives. Students of DuPage High School District 88 are leading change and creating a more inclusive school environment through the Youth Equity Stewardship (YES!) program, for example by hosting a school safety forum where students could bring their concerns and launching a student-led news channel. And Padres Latinos en Acción (Latino Parents in Action) has taken steps to uplift their culture in the community and raise money for student scholarships.
Embracing a Culture of Health in any community requires a commitment to inclusion, to a shared vision, to teamwork, and to caring for the needs of all its residents. It redefines the true meaning of ‘community.’
—Richard Veenstra, Mayor
The Village of Addison
Another shift Addison has recognized, with a view toward the future, is changing workforce needs. The village is home to a large industrial park, but changes in technology have raised the level of training required for employment, leaving many Addisonians behind and creating a challenging labor shortage for local business owners. To ensure residents can access the well-paying jobs available in their hometown and businesses can fill them, Mayor Richard Veenstra formed a workforce development committee that is creating pathways to employment. One initiative focuses on apprenticing residents at local businesses.
In many ways, Addison is making the most of its resources and making sure residents benefit from them. Winning the Culture of Health Prize underscores the point.
“Embracing a Culture of Health in any community requires a commitment to inclusion, to a shared vision, to teamwork, and to caring for the needs of all its residents,” Veenstra said. “It redefines the true meaning of ‘community.’”