The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health sets aside the third Thursday of every November to celebrate National Rural Health Day. National Rural Health Day is an opportunity to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” by honoring the selfless, community-minded, “can do” spirit that prevails in rural America, gives us a chance to bring to light the unique healthcare challenges that rural citizens face, and showcase the efforts of rural healthcare providers, State Offices of Rural Health and other rural stakeholders to address those challenges. (Learn more at www.powerofrural.org)
The nation’s Cooperative Extension System and its 4-H youth development program have the scale, reach, and experience to act as important partners and change agents for health equity. Extension’s Well Connected Communities initiative helps build diverse, multigenerational, cross-sector coalitions that can recognize and address systemic health inequities. By intentionally forging connections, building capacity, and taking action in these communities and across the Extension network we can ensure that life-long health and well-being are within everyone’s reach.
This Rural Health Day, we’re sharing one example of that community-minded, “can do” spirit from the Well Connected community in Washington County, Georgia.
When COVID-19 first hit, Georgeanne Cook, the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Washington County, was left wondering how to keep the work of her community coalition from falling by the wayside. People were understandably concerned about the immediate issue of the virus and its consequences. Many people had started working from home. Video conferencing wasn’t yet such an inevitable part of our everyday lives. “How can I keep moving forward with Well Connected Communities when I can’t meet with my advisory board?” she asked herself. That’s when her fellow agent, Cindy Sheram, said in passing, “Everybody does Facebook.” So, Georgeanne started creating weekly wellness posts to be shared on the Washington County Extension Facebook page. Soon after, looking to increase her reach, she contacted a local radio station and asked if they would consider airing her weekly Wellness Wednesday post. WSNT 100 enthusiastically agreed to provide her the airtime for free. “They were absolutely on board,” Georgeanne says. “And their listeners enjoyed it too.”
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The quick, radio PSAs air twice a day every Wednesday and cover simple health tips on nutrition, exercise, and mental health. To keep youth involved, a key tenet of the Well Connected Communities approach, Georgeanne started including youth ambassadors in the radio spots. “Whatever we could to keep going with something, even though COVID was upon us,” she says.
The result has been impressive. WSNT100, which reaches sixteen counties including Washington County, gets the message out to nearly 600,000 potential listeners, weekly. And, more recently, Wellness Wednesdays is reaching an additional 200,000 potential listeners via Y101, which covers Toombs and another ten counties. Both stations are also running health tip contests, where a listener who calls in with the correct answer to the weekly question can win a Well Connected Communities t-shirt.
Georgeanne says that the radio spots have prompted listeners to call the Extension office for more information. And the effort is also helping maintain some momentum around Washington County’s Well Connected Communities work in these unusual and challenging times.