Palm Beach County, Florida
2020–2021 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner
Palm Beach County Taps the Power of Residents to Lead
In Palm Beach County, Fla., reaching from the Atlantic Ocean beachfront to Lake Okeechobee, more and more people are exercising an important muscle: civic muscle.
This community of 1.5 million is committed to the idea that all residents, particularly those who have been excluded from seats of power, can participate in problem-solving and decision-making to build a Culture of Health.
“Residents lead and determine what better health looks like for them,” said Jeanette Marshall, project director for Healthier Neighbors, part of a community-based initiative called Healthier Together, which works to set and activate residents’ priorities. Palm Beach County, she added, now has a process for people “to speak and be heard and see the change that they want to see.”
Examples of residents driving priorities abound. They’re focusing on policies and practices around behavioral and mental health, racial equity, and cradle-to-career advancements for children and young people.
There’s Freslaine St. Louis, a church youth leader in Delray Beach, who was concerned about the emotional well-being of people in the Haitian community. As a Creole speaker, she became trained in mental health first aid, helped others to also receive training, and now serves as project coordinator for BeWellPBC, which brings residents to the table with funders and service providers to improve the community’s behavioral health.
And there’s Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson, Jr., a self-described “guy from the neighborhood,” who provides after-school engagement for teens in Delray Beach. Jackson has received leadership training, support, and mini-grants for programs from the Healthier Together initiative. During the pandemic, teens collected more than 1,200 stories of how the crisis was affecting neighbors, giving funders and agencies real-time information on the impact of the crisis and where they should focus attention and resources.
The Culture of Health Prize shines a light on the power of inclusion for improving health. “An important part of the Palm Beach story,” said Lauren Zuchman, executive director of BeWellPBC, “is that this groundswell of community involvement is changing mindsets on how things should be done.”
Because there was so much demand for addressing behavioral health issues coming from the six communities included in the Healthier Together initiative, BeWellPBC was created three years ago to engage people living with behavioral health challenges in the delivery of clinical services and nonclinical approaches.
Another example of how Palm Beach County leads by listening is its work around meeting the needs of children and youth. In 2015, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy, the county responded by creating the Youth Services Department, which then held 13 community conversations to hear from residents. That led to the launch of Birth to 22, an alliance of community partners committed to a common agenda for young people.
With relationships and trust deepening among community partners, the county was better able to react to the pandemic. “We immediately came together,” said Tammy Fields, director of youth services.
Partners responded to a digital emergency affecting school-age children. An estimated 25,000 students had no high-speed internet with which to access online learning. Public and private groups collaborated to fund and install the hardware for Wi-Fi in isolated places like the Glades communities in the county’s far western side. Technology navigators helped groups unfamiliar with using a tablet or computer, such as some elderly residents. The initiative has evolved into the Digital Inclusion Project, through which more than 40 partners will continue to work to improve digital equity.
An important part of the Palm Beach story is that this groundswell of community involvement is changing mindsets on how things should be done.
Palm Beach County, Florida
In maximizing the power of residents, Palm Beach County also is advancing racial equity as an underpinning to better health. More than 6,000 residents—including teachers, public employees, community leaders, and students—have received training in racial equity through a consortium of partners. This training led to Organizing Against Racism, a community alliance that keeps participants engaged by creating caucus groups that suggest action, such as advocating for Florida Atlantic University’s School of Medicine to develop a health equity curriculum to improve training and treatment.
“It takes a village to bring about change,” said Carmelle Marcelin-Chapman, project director for Healthier Lake Worth Beach, one of Healthier Together’s community-based initiatives.