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 https://www.countyhealthrankings.org

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.

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.

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!”

Youth Address Community Mental Health by Creating a “Snowflake” Conference in West Virginia

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A youth team from two West Virginia communities who attended the 2020 National Healthy Living Summit planned and coordinated a conference to address mental health. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on events and gatherings, youth pivoted their planning and logistics for the Snowflake Conference to a virtual platform.  health equity in their communities. They created and the Snowflake Conference project and came up with session topics and conference logistics. On October 10, 2020, 19 youth and 11 adults attended the virtual conference to address mental health as a health disparity in their communities.  According to the participants, youth agreed that as a result of successfully implementing this conference, they are confident in their abilities to plan and execute an idea about community change with opportunity for disseminating the project as a pilot and small-scale model. There are plans for longer-term post conference evaluation, but some responses from a short post conference survey indicate that participants gained insights about their own uniqueness and the importance of mental health. Respondents also strongly agreed or somewhat agreed they learned more about resources for mental health, gained a greater understanding what mindfulness is, and they feel better about communicating during conflicts.  Three counties have expressed interest in replicating this concept their communities and ideas generated by this youth-led virtual conference have inspired state-level Extension committees on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to begin making plans for a similar youth-led statewide summit.

Updates from Across Well Connected Communities

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Following are short-term outcomes from seven rural communities as they apply the core principles of Well Connected Communities into their action plans.

Policy, systems, and environmental changes at the local and system level

Pennsylvania State University
Capacity & Competency: Collaborative Leadership

The local coalition and Aliquippa Food Council are developing a relationship with the Aliquippa School District with the goal of addressing food desert issues by planting a garden at the elementary school (grades one through six) and providing resources.

Council members met with the superintendent and elementary school administrators to discuss plans for the development of an elementary school garden, with $5000 funding through The Poise Foundation and a Penn State Extension Impact grant. The Council members assisted with the information required for the school to apply for a Kids Gardening grant.

The rationale for this PSE change is to teach children and families how to grow their own food and prepare it, therefore alleviating some of the food insecurity issues many local families face.

Learning and growing together for a results-oriented movement.

University of New Hampshire + Tennessee State University
Capacity & Competency: Data-informed decisions and progress-tracking

UNH-Sullivan County’s Photovoice Project is led by a University of New Hampshire professor who will teach youth and adults in the coalition to use photovoice research to conduct community asset mapping and document the realities of the community. Coalition members (youth and adult) participated in the initial training. This project will foster positive community experiences and empower community members to create change around issues they identify as priority. 

TSU-East Jackson coalition had youth and adults engaged in this community asset mapping exercise where community members were interviewed. The community coalition used the result of this survey to identify four priority areas. This needs assessment fostered connections within the community and created a general sense of awareness of health issues. Community members outside of the coalition are now actively seeking opportunities to increase awareness of health determinants in their community.

A Focus on equity and inclusion

University of Arizona (Hopi/Pima) + University of Nebraska
Capacity and Competency: Collaborative Leadership + Place-based change

UA-Hopi/Pima 4-H project is focused specifically on food justice. Youth, through creative story-telling, will document and preserve stories of food resilience and food sovereignty in Hopi and Pima counties. Adult mentors will support youth in exploring food traditions in their families and communities and sharing stories with larger communities through the participatory building of a digital archive. Project will build a social justice framework for understanding and teaching food resilience and food sovereignty.

UN-Macy County is creating a K-12 food sustainability program that uses a greenhouse and farm-to-school program to support accessibility and distribution of traditional healthy, edible, and medicinal plants to the Omaha Tribe. This is a systems change for the UNPS School District.

Commitment to transforming place through genuine partnership and shared vision

Purdue University
Capacity & Competency: Collaborative Leadership

Extension is working with the food policy council to improve sustainability and develop/open a new food hub. COVID-19 exacerbated food security issues and led to seeking out partners and weaving multiple interests. Developed a partnership with McFarling Foods, a USDA grantee.

The Oasis (Community Garden) provided over 300 servings/whole vegetables with nutrition information to individuals and apartment complexes with primarily elderly and disabled residents.

The coalition partners have brought in nearly a half-million dollars worth of food into the community. As a result, the community has new partners (AmVet, The Food Council, Senior Gleaners, etc.)* and increased visibility as they continue to identify residents without access to food.

*Local AmVets distributed 1,274 pounds of food. 33 volunteers, including drivers delivered food boxes to homebound for a total of 119 hours donated. USDA Farm to Family Meal Box distribution for “Fill in the Gap” campaign to case managers distributed 1, 054 pound of food with 25 volunteers donating 70 hours. The Food Council provided 1,680 dozen eggs. Senior Gleaners distributed 1,700 boxes of food and 150 volunteer hours

CDC’s 500 Cities Project is becoming PLACES (Population Level Analysis and Community Estimates)

As the nation faces an unprecedented health crisis, it is more important than ever to have health information at the local level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 500 Cities is expanding to PLACES, a first-of-its-kind effort to release health information covering the entire United States down to the city, county, and census tract level, including rural areas, small and midsize cities.

The PLACES project includes 27 different health measures, including mental and physical health, access to health insurance and preventive screenings, for every county, city, and census tract in the U.S. The chronic disease measures focus on health outcomes, unhealthy behaviors, and prevention practices that have a substantial impact on how well and long people live. Created by the CDC in 2016 to provide city and census tract-level health data for the 500 largest cities, the 500 Cities project expanded to PLACES, providing data for the entire country with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Find out how PLACES can help your community here: https://bit.ly/3qgZXkQ 

Youth of Solutions Fellowship Program

Well-Being and Equity in the World invite applicants to the Youth of Solutions Fellowship Program, Leading for Wellbeing and Racial Equity.

What is it?

This is a 1-year program that offers students that are interested in hands-on learning to assess and improve population and community health and well-being across sectors with a heavy focus on racism and systemic factors that contribute to inequity. Fellows for this program will be offered training and coaching in applying leading from within skills, leading together skills, and leading for equitable outcomes from the WE in the World team. 

Why join?

As a part of the program, Fellows will have the opportunity to work with youth and other community members for social transformation in areas they are passionate about. They will join a global network of young minds and hearts working to lead together for equity and well-being while looking at their own local conditions to apply their learning.

How to apply? Please see here for a brief application form, application closes December 19, 2020 for the January Cohort. For further information please feel free to contact us at louisa.mancey@weintheworld.org.

4-H Interview with Dr. Richard Besser of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

In this 4 for 4 interview, National 4-H Council President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo is joined by Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for a virtual discussion on youth leadership and community impact.

The concept for 4 for 4 Talks is simple: using video conferencing, we’ll call you and ask 4 questions in 4 minutes that focus on the journey you’ve taken in life, your career, and the path forward you see for young people navigating the world ahead. Through this lens we may talk about societal issues you think are most impacting young people, our national surveys on physical and mental health, our current health and social climate, and solutions to creating a brighter future for America’s youth. Each 4 for 4 is casual and brief by design, but powerful in the story it can tell and those it can influence.

4-H, Norris Square Community Alliance promote food security in Philadelphia

Jack Ouligian August 04, 2020

Lauren Perez, a 4-H program coordinator in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, delivers food and other items to a family. Image: Lauren Perez

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.”

More information on Penn State Extension’s 4-H programming can be found at https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h.