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.
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.
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!”
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.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa — 4-H, a nationwide youth-development program administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Extension, empowers and educates children and young adults across the commonwealth — a mission that naturally attracts generous, caring and dedicated employees.
“Their passion is not just limited to office hours either,” said Deborah Dietrich, an area 4-H extension educator who is responsible for 11 counties, including Philadelphia. “They make an impact in local communities both in and outside of the job.”
These qualities were displayed in early June, when Lauren Perez, a 4-H program coordinator in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, told her colleagues about riots that had taken place in the community recently and the impact that civil unrest had on families.
“My 4-H kids’ access to food had been disrupted on an epic scale,” Perez said. “There was devastation and destruction on Kensington Avenue. People were afraid to leave their homes, and no organizations were going into the neighborhood because looting was going on.”
On June 1, Perez met with a representative from the North Square Community Alliance, with which 4-H has partnered through the Well-Connected Communities program, a collaboration among Penn State Extension, the National 4-H Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Well-Connected Communities is designed to support coalition-building in Norris Square to help set a direction for positive change around health challenges in this community.
Perez explained the situation in Philadelphia to her fellow educators. “I showed them pictures and told them a little bit of backstory,” Perez said. “In the course of three days, they had raised money, shopped, prepared food and delivered it to my house by Friday.”
Donations came entirely from staff members, business acquaintances and family. Thanks to her colleagues’ aid, Perez visited 30 of her 4-H families June 5, bringing not only enrichment materials, but also bags of food and “Messages of Hope” — letters written by other 4-H members across the commonwealth.
“We wanted them to know that there were fellow 4-H members out there,” said Dietrich. “Their experience might be different from, say, a kid in Lancaster County, but we wanted them to know that they were a part of something bigger, and that this something bigger cares about them.”
While Perez continued delivering food to families every Friday for a few weeks, 4-H and the Norris Square Community Alliance began to deepen their collaboration. Together, they created a plan to feed all the youth who were going to receive food through the Norris Square Community Alliance’s summer programming, a group that included the 4-H members with whom Perez works.
The funding for the food distribution came from the pool initially set up by the Penn State Extension 4-H educators, and 4-H worked alongside the Norris Square Community Alliance to address issues related to food preparation, social distancing and COVID-19.
“We saw a need, and we realized that it was not efficient to keep delivering 60 lunches in a community every Friday,” said Dietrich. “There were better ways to do it. We don’t just make short-term commitments to communities; we make long-term commitments, and we wanted to make sure that our plan had organization and follow-through.”
In the days after Gov. Tom Wolf designated Philadelphia County as a “green” zone, 4-H helped the Norris Square Community Alliance switch to an on-site food delivery program, feeding youth in a Norris Square Community Alliance building while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
In addition, the organizations offered socially distant, in-person programs focused on mental health and indoor gardening. And while these programs were switched to a virtual format following an order from city government, the Norris Square Community Alliance continues to feed youths on-site with guidance and funding from 4-H.
“We had planned on doing youth development with the Norris Square kids in their summer programs, so we already had a connection with the organization,” said Dietrich. “But this has grown into something more. We’re not just giving out food or money, we’re working with the community to show them how they can organize and meet their own needs, to set an example that the community can follow.”
Although 4-H, in normal times, provides key resources to schools and communities through clubs, projects and leadership activities, this partnership has allowed for moments of growth and understanding in both organizations.
“The most remarkable thing here is that these organizations have collaborated and communicated together so effectively,” Perez said. “Sometimes people with good intentions get frustrated with the people they are helping because they do not understand the community that they are helping, while the community that they are helping does not know what to do with the resources that they have been given.”
But here, she pointed out, the experience has shown each group a unique perspective and has led to “a wonderful moment where people realize that, if you bridge that gap between each other, it can lead to much greater success.”
Health is created in the places where we live, work, learn, and play. Our ability to make healthy choices is dictated by the conditions of those places. Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) change can influence health by changing the conditions within communities– making the healthy choice the easy choice. PSE changes often stretch beyond the benefits of programs to create population level impacts.
Explore the rich set of resources below to help to grow your community’s capacity to understand and advance policy, systems, and environmental change.
Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change Overview
Policies are written statements created and adopted by organizations, agencies, and stakeholders intended to achieve specific health goals. Policy change is a tool used by communities across the country to improve population health by advancing initiatives that can affect the behaviors of entire populations more efficiently than other tools. For example, a policy that places restrictions on unhealthy food and beverage marketing in schools reduces exposure and consumption of unhealthy food in school cafeterias.
System change involves transforming and redesigning the practices and structures within organizations, institutions or networks to promote better health outcomes. System change addresses problems on a fundamental level and often works hand-in-hand with policy change. An example of a systems change is the creation of a Farm-to-School initiative that creates processes to rebuild healthy food systems in school by serving local produce in the cafeteria and instituting food education opportunities in the classroom.
Environmental change involves transforming the economic, social, or physical contexts in the lived-environment that affect health outcomes. Environmental change strategies are often used in conjunction with other strategies to improve population health. An example of an environmental change would be to increase the number of community garden plots on vacant land to grow community engagement and improve food security.
Fifty years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong walked as the first man on the moon with his epic quote “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Youth in Connersville, IN used that as the launching pad for the first ever “Daylight Moonwalk” in their community, drawing a giant response of 128 citizens who turned out to take a walking break despite a rainy day. This was part of the Fayette County, IN. Well Connected Community (WCC) Initiative where organizers are seeking to establish a health coalition.
The WCC youth-adult team combined forces with a nonprofit called “Community Voices”. Together they sketched out 4 routes in downtown Connersville, three under a mile long and taking 12-20 minutes to walk. The 4th route was a combination of the other three routes, taking 45 minutes to walk 1.8 miles. They focused on downtown where over 150 local government employees work sedentary jobs. The youth applied for a $1,000.00 local foundation grant which they received to buy t-shirts, healthy prizes and snacks, and signage. The t-shirts were imprinted with a youth-designed logo and the slogan paraphrasing Armstrong’s famous quote “Take a path toward health one step at a time”, which the youth hope to use again in the future. Eight community organizations including a local bank and insurance company collaborated on the event.
Teens and adults manned the central booth located in the Courthouse parking lot Farmers’ Market on June 15, 2019. Of the 128 walkers, 41 (nearly one-third) were youngsters! The teens calculated that the walkers made 281,722 steps (134.5 miles), burning 11,600 calories. 55 committed to a 12-week online walking program called Get WalkIN developed by Purdue University School of Nursing.
Thanks to coverage by a local newspaper, one of the local hospitals decided to be a supporter of establishing the desired community health coalition. Potential funding is being sought for permanent signage to mark the “walking break trails”.
Carrying out the theme of the event, this could be one giant step towards better health for the entire community as a community coalition searches out the priority health issues for this town and works as a body to address those concerns.
The Calhoun County 4-H Health Ambassadors as part of Well Connected Communities hosted a community-wide Health Fair on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at the Gym in Arlington, Georgia. This event was created as part of the (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) Well Connected Communities training that 4 of the Health Ambassadors attended in February of this year in Washington, D.C. After learning the health statistics of their county, the ambassadors wanted to first let the community know their findings then invite organizations that would help the community to know options and services that are out there to decrease these rankings.
Those who attended this event also had the opportunity to make their own smoothie creation with our new smoothie bike. This bike not only helps you burn calories as you make your own smoothie, but it is also a great example of how simple machines work. Everyone enjoyed riding it.
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