REPOST: University works with Native Americans to improve nutrition, fight disease

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An effort to tackle health challenges and improve nutrition among Native Americans, who suffer disproportionately from a variety of diseases, encompasses several University of Nebraska–Lincoln research and extension initiatives across the country that range from training future health care workers to promoting production of traditional tribal crops.

The goal of these efforts is to reduce or eliminate health disparities in Nebraska and beyond. To achieve this goal, researchers and extension educators work directly with the communities they serve and incorporate important cultural elements into programs that encourage health and wellness.

For example, Nebraska is one of 17 land-grant university partners in the Well Connected Communities initiative, which reaches 40 communities across the country, including Macy and Lincoln. Another initiative is the Community Based Participatory Research program supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Nebraska’s project aims to adapt cardiovascular disease risk reduction efforts in Native populations.

Lisa Franzen-Castle, associate professor and extension nutrition specialist in the nutrition and health sciences department, said the WCC initiative is …

Read the full article by Dan Moser on Nebraska Today.

REPOST: ‘Make Fruits Available to All’ program, addressing food security on the Eastern Shore

University of Maryland Eastern Shore Extension’s Well Connected Communities along with Horticulture and Fruits programs celebrated their first harvest since 2017. The program called “Make Fruits Available to All” is teaching college students and and community members young and old to grow and care for an orchard.

Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition and State Extension Nutrition Specialist, University of Maryland Extension and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

A project three years in the making is now ready for harvest. This is part of the efforts to address the food security problem here on the eastern shore. 

The work was featured on ABC Channel 47 on June 7, 2021. Visit their website to watch the news segment.

Well Connected Communities Welcomes New Youth Leaders to Steering Committee

The Well Connected Communities initiative relies on input from a national Steering Committee to ensure that strategies and tactics utilized by the initiative align with best practices of related fields. The Steering Committee includes representatives of various organizations who share a commitment to health equity, local action, youth voice, and advancing the community engagement mission of the nation’s land grant universities. Members are thought leaders in the organizations they represent and offer advice to initiative leadership at various times throughout the year.  Members of the steering committee are listed here.

In 2021, Nathan Grine, Sophia Rodriguez, Paris Woods, and Mayyadah Zagelow, have joined the steering committee as youth members.

“Because the decisions that we make today will have a significant impact on the type of world that the young people will live in as adults,” says Roger Rennekamp, the Health Director with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), “it is fitting and proper that they are involved in making those decisions.”

Meet these youth and read their bios below.

Nathan Grine | Ohio State University
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Nathan Grine was involved in the Ohio 4-H program for 10 years as a member and continues to give back as a young alumnus. He is currently a first-year graduate student pursuing a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Maryland. Following graduation, Nathan would like to work in higher education advancement and fundraising. While in 4-H, he was heavily involved in leadership programming and youth advocacy efforts at both the state and national level. Nathan is continually invested in elevating all voices and perspectives while creating equitable experiences that further promote youth development.

Sophia Rodriguez | University of Georgia
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Sophia Rodriguez has been involved in 4-H in Georgia for 10 years. She is a junior at the University of Georgia majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences, International Affairs, and minoring in Spanish. Post-graduation, Sophia aspires to do research for an education policy firm and contribute to bettering the United States’ education system. As a 4-H’er, she focused on programs highlighting Communications, the Arts, and Healthy Living, and currently, Sophia finds joy in cultivating genuine support systems that champion inclusivity and advocate for others.

Paris Woods | James Madison University
National 4-H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee Member

Paris Woods has been involved in 4-H in Virginia for 12 years. She is a Senior at James Madison University, majoring in Justice Studies with a concentration in Social Justice and Interventions, with minors in Political Science and Nonprofit Studies. Post-Graduation, Paris hopes to receive her masters in International Relations and Diplomacy to hopefully work for an International Human Rights organization, or as a United States Diplomat. As a 4-Her, Paris was heavily involved in 4-H Summer Camps, Teen Development Programs, and served on the Virginia 4-H State Cabinet for two years. She has an ever-growing passion for youth and story-telling with ambitions to increase opportunities for intentional service.

Mayyadah Zagelow | Washington State University | Washington
2021 Healthy Living Youth in Action Award Winner

At a young age, Mayyadah Zagelow struggled with her mental health through anxiety and selective mutism, unable to express her thoughts at school and in other environments. Combined with bullying at school by those she had once considered friends, Mayyadah felt isolated and betrayed. That’s when she joined 4-H, and her journey to overcoming anxiety began. Through 4-H, Mayyadah learned to turn difficult experiences into empowering opportunities as she learned to speak up and speak out for herself and for others who feel voiceless.   

Passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and addressing social inequities, Mayyadah is a founding member of a grassroots youth movement in Washington state called the Teen Equity and Inclusion Task Force. Through this taskforce, Mayyadah is working with fellow 4-H’ers to educate adults and teens alike through workshops and grassroots efforts about gender identities, expression, orientation and biological sex, as well as the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community in hopes of creating a world of inclusion for all 4-H youth. The task force also provides a safe space and healthy environment for youth to share their stories. Using teamwork strategies and communication skills, Mayyadah seeks to lift up the varied stories of 4-H’s diverse youth. Mayyadah recently graduated from high school and is currently attending Central Washington University.  

Updated County Health Rankings Released

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute has released the annual update of its County Health Rankings featuring information on more than 30 factors which influence health.  The new rankings can be accessed at

Released every year by the UWPHI, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rankings show that where you live influences how well and how long you live. An easy-to-use snapshot, the Rankings compare the health of all counties within states and call attention to the differences in opportunity to live long and well from one county to the next.

In addition to the county-level data, the Rankings also features What Works for Health, a database of more than 400 evidence-informed strategies to support local changemakers as they take steps toward expanding opportunities. Each strategy is rated for its evidence of effectiveness and likely impact on health disparities. The Take Action Center also provides valuable guidance for communities who want to move with data to action.

Learning How Zip Code Can Affect Life Expectancy at National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living

Participants at the 2021 National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living learned how one’s zip code can predict one’s life expectancy from Katrina Badger, program officer for “Healthy Communities” for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).  Badger used Richmond, Virginia as an example of a city where life expectancy from one area of the city to another can differ up to 20 years, leading to a discussion of the social determinants of health.  Watch Badger’s remarks below and see if the data for a city near you can be found here.

RWJF is America’s largest health philanthropy foundation.

REPOST: Town of Princess Anne shows appreciation for UMES Well Connected Communities

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UMES Extension’s Well Connected Communities team was recognized February 1 for its “dedication and diligence in community service to the Town of Princess Anne.”  The group of faculty members and educators has lent a hand in breaking down the barriers that may prevent residents from living the healthiest life possible.

“The Well Connected Communities program has been instrumental to the community in teaching them proper nutrition and how to grow their own foods through the community garden,” said Garland Hayward, vice president of the Princess Anne Town Commissioners.  He said the recognition came on the heels of WCC’s implementation of a contactless food drive for some 600 Somerset countians.

A part of the Culture of Health Initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the national program aims to address the physical, social, mental and environmental health of selected communities chosen by participating land-grant universities.

UMES’ initiative, administered by the UMES Extension Nutrition and Health Program, includes projects in Fruitland (Wicomico) and Pocomoke (Worcester) in addition to Princess Anne.  In each of the communities, said Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, director of the program, a health needs assessment was completed followed by action plans.  A collaborative group of youth, adults in the community, community-based organizations, governmental agencies and local businesses was formed in each of the municipalities to implement several projects.

Residents of Princess Anne have benefited from the Well Connected Communities project through the creation of a youth-building “Reading and Group Therapy Garden,” three mini fruit orchards and a monthly social event to strengthen parent-child relationships and improve mental health, particularly among youth.  Food drives, Zoumenou said, are continuing to be organized to “help put food on the table during the pandemic.”

“UMES Well Connected Communities is a dedicated team striving to ensure healthier communities as a proud part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Initiative,” Zoumenou said.  “Being honored by the Town of Princess Anne leaves no doubt that the team’s activities in Somerset County and beyond are valued by the community.”

UMES WCC members joining Zoumenou on the team are:  Drs. Naveen Kumar Dixit, Marie Therese Oyalowo, Bridgett Clinton, Kieu Do, and McCoy Curtis Jr., Emily Hitchcock, Susan Jayne, Ricki Reavis and Caitlin LaComb.  To reach one of the Well Connected Communities program assistants, email

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Where we live shouldn’t determine how long or how well we live. In our communities, we all should be surrounded by conditions that enable us to live the healthiest life possible, such as access to healthy food, quality schools, stable housing, good jobs with fair pay, and safe places to exercise and play.”

Reposted with permission from UMES.

Gail Stephens, agricultural communications and media associate, School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, 410-621-3850,

Creative Health Communications in Tennessee

When it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was continuing into 2021, Well Connected Communities program assistant Susan Holloway was looking for new outreach methods in her community of Jackson, Tennessee. The local crime newspaper, CrimeSEENExaminerNews, was also looking for ways to upgrade its publication with new and different articles. Holloway suggested that she could make contributions around the “crime” of health inequity and partnership was born.

CrimeSEENExaminerNews features local crime, community, health, education, social, sports, entertainment, political news, as well as classifieds, and legal notices. The paper is distributed to several counties in West Tennessee including Madison, Gibson, Crockett, Haywood, which are home to nearly 179,000 residents. Among them are the residents of Denmark and East Jackson, which the University of Tennessee – Tennessee State University Well Connected Communities program specifically wants to reach.

Each Thursday, more than 18,000 printed copies of the paper are distributed throughout the area, including racks at Dollar General and Walgreen stores. Without fail, they are quickly snapped up.  (Holloway says that the newspaper is so popular that straggler copies can only be found through the weekend in the north of the county.) A PDF edition is also made available online on Wednesday evening before the papers go out. 

Holloway was introduced as a contributing writer to CrimeSEENExaminerNews in January 2021 with a monthly column entitled, “It’s a Crime to Be Unhealthy!” Her first column introduced Well Connected Communities and urged residents to get their yearly wellness visit. Holloway provided information about ways to do this with or without insurance and different facilities that provide the check-ups. She also reminded readers that Emergency Room care is among the most expensive. The article was so popular that it had over 600 hits in four hours. According to the newspaper, this is an unprecedented response to a single article. In February, Holloway suggested nutritionally and financially healthy meal options to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Holloway will be contributing to CrimeSEENExaminerNews for a total of ten months. Check out the January and February issues that feature her contributions.

Scott County EMPOWER Attend 2021 National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living

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Scott County EMPOWER youth leaders represented Indiana at the National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living on February 14, 2021. More than 560 participants attended this virtual conference from 34 states, the U.S. Territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and three military installations, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

Scott County is one of the 43 communities engaged in the Well Connected Communities (WCC). WCC is a national health and well-being initiative of the Cooperative Extension System—in partnership with National 4-H Council and support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)—that is working to ensure that life-long health and well-being are within everyone’s reach. Scott County’s youth coalition, Scott County EMPOWER, was represented at the summit by Nick Henderson and Ella Rahe of Austin High School and Johnathon Perkinson and Logan Weilbaker of Scottsburg High School. Henderson, Perkinson, Rahe, and Weilbaker presented on Youth as Targets of the Alcohol and Tobacco Industries’ Advertising. Their group participated in two separate sessions during the summit and interacted with the attendees by answering questions and providing examples of youth activities for building resilience. Their work was also a part of the virtual Summit Showcase, which highlighted successful youth programs and resources to help other communities develop health programs. 

Ella Rahe remarked that she felt the sessions she presented in helped attendees understand what’s going on in our world; how youth overlook how companies fool us in false advertising and how youth are targeted in these advertisements.

Johnathan Perkinson commented that It was a great experience to be able to speak in front of people from across the United States about healthy living from a youth’s perspective. “It was interesting to see how our presentation influenced the youth to ask questions about what EMPOWER is doing in order to help them learn about ways to influence the youth in their own communities in a positive and beneficial way.” 

JoAnne Leatherman, WCC Youth and Adult Volunteer Lead, praised the Scott County EMPOWER youth. “Scott County EMPOWER is a fine example of what youth leadership can do to implement positive health changes in their community, and they have been working effectively despite the effects of COVID shutdowns,” Leatherman said. “To learn more about the youth coalition’s work, you can watch their remarkable videos about building youth resilience at”  

Scott County EMPOWER is a youth-driven coalition that includes participation from both Scott County school districts. Founded by Scott County youth who want to improve their community’s prevention work, they believe that healthy, safe, drug-free lives can be encouraged with the right tools. They are working with their local adult coalition CEASe (Coalition to Eliminate the Abuse of Substances). Learn more about their collaborative work at or

Well Connected Communities in Georgia

Written by Dr. Courtney Brown and Dr. Jenna Daniel

Reprinted with permission. Click here to read the full Georgia 4-H Annual Report.

Well Connected Communities is an effort to cultivate wellness across the country. In partnership with National 4-H Council, Colquitt, Calhoun, and Washington counties are working to remove barriers and create communities where healthy choices are easy and available to all. The Well Connected Communities Initiative is supported by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy
dedicated solely to health.

Across the state, UGA Extension professionals work every day to provide research-based knowledge to community members, and connectivity among community partners.

Through this partnership, we are working to ensure our communities have access to local data that helps identify gaps and challenges to health and wellness, local policies that encourage healthy living, engagement from all sectors of public and private industry and government to help solve pressing issues, and networks of people and youth that want to make a difference.

Since January of 2018, Colquitt, Calhoun, and Washington counties have worked to establish, expand, and engage members of their community in a health coalition. These coalitions are comprised of individuals from multiple sectors and collaborate to provide perspective, assess needs, and expand resources in the communities in which they serve.

This initiative began in Georgia in 2018, as Georgia participated in Wave 1 as a self-funded participant in the Well Connected Communities initiative. During Wave 1, nearly $10,000 in support from National 4-H Council was leveraged for travel,
professional development, training, multi-county collaboration, and national meetings. Now in Wave 2, Georgia is receiving funding from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through National 4-H Council to continue this important work.

Kathryn Holland, Colquitt County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, says, “Well Connected Communities is inspiring this community to identify their own wellness priorities and empowering them, especially youth members, to be the solution.
It is beautiful to see us come together across age, race, class, education, religion, political views, and more to focus on a goal and serve with our strengths. This coalition and community is comprised of amazing people!”

Washington County coalition member Conni Fennell-Burley of the Archway Partnership emphasizes the importance of Well Connected Communities, “As health has become a laser focused topic in all of our communities, Washington County Well-Connected Communities has been in direct alignment with needs and priorities as they have arisen. Through community engagement with adults and youth, Well Connected Communities has the ability to impact decisions
that are made regarding the health, both physically and mentally, of our citizens.”

Shanda Ashley, Calhoun County 4-H Agent, reflects on the importance of youth involvement in the Well Connected Communities initiative, “Well Connected Communities has brought a positive youth-adult partnership component to our
existing health coalition. This has not only strengthened our coalition, but given the community as a whole more insight from everyone’s (adults and youth) perspective for creating a “Healthier Together Calhoun.” Alone we can do so little, but TOGETHER we can do so MUCH MORE!”

University of Maryland Eastern Shore WCC team honored by Princess Anne Town Commissioners

On Monday, February 1, 2021, The Princess Anne Town Commissioners presented to  the University of Maryland Eastern Shore-Well Connected Communities (UMES -WCC) team, a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of the UMES-WCC team‘s dedication and diligence in Community Service to the Town of Princess Anne, MD.

 “On behalf of the UMES-WCC team,  I would like to thank you and the Princess Anne Town Commissioners for this honor,” said Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, who leads UMES-WCC. “Being honored with this Certificate of Appreciation leaves no doubt that the accomplishments of the UMES-WCC in Somerset County and beyond are recognized and valued by the community members.” She concluded by saying, “We look forward to more collaborative work to ensure an engaged and healthy community in the Tri-County area of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and beyond.”