Well Being Legacy (cc:initiative)

Spotlight Stories: Allen County, Kansas

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Allen County, Kansas is a rural county located in the southeast part of the state. It’s made up of ten cities, the most populous of which is Iola – the county seat – with 5,600 residents. Allen County has experienced a century of decline in population, as well as economic and health conditions. People were reluctant to fill the few jobs available, in part because they simply did not want to live in Allen County. As a result, in the early 2000’s, local residents found themselves “chasing smokestacks” in futile efforts to recruit a factory to town. But, recruitment was unsuccessful and the situation became untenable: the hospital was deteriorating, community institutions were starting to fall apart, and the basic conditions that make a community livable were starting to disappear. Ultimately, a group of locals — ranging from healthcare providers to a domestic violence shelter — recognized that existing efforts were unsuccessful; a new approach was needed.

THE CHALLENGE 

There is an assumption that in rural counties everyone knows and talks to each other regularly. This isn’t actually the case in Allen County, which lacks population density – distance between communities creates physical barriers to gathering together, to community fellowship. Whereas previously, people might have met on Tuesday mornings at the local diner, or Wednesday evenings at the Lions Club, these opportunities no longer exist. The local diner closed; the Lion’s Club disbanded; even some churches dissolved. In addition, a lot of people come to rural America because they don’t want to be bothered by other people – there’s a sense of “rugged individualism” that can hinder collaboration and community.

THE COLLABORATION

Community members seeking change understood that they had to be disciplined about engaging residents in community improvement efforts, including meeting regularly, rain or shine. Efforts are intentionally inclusive, county-wide and resident-led. The group creates a safe space for conversation so folks are able to learn what is going on in neighboring towns, talk to each other and share ideas. Because physical distance and isolation make it difficult for people in some towns to be involved, the group makes an effort to meet in smaller towns (e.g. Savonburg, population: 103) and bring others from around the county.

They’ve also sought to shift the paradigm around community engagement to create opportunities for people to get involved on their own terms – people will volunteer to do things they want to do and work on things they care about. If someone volunteers to help build trail on Saturday morning, they aren’t asked to do volunteer dental screenings next month. This approach creates a sense of comfort and ownership in volunteering among community members.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

The group has developed techniques for engaging local government in efforts to improve community wellbeing. Specifically, they’ve focused on strategic framing of issues. For example, although most of the county is in a food desert, that isn’t the focus of policy discussions around planning for a new grocery store. Instead, they talk about how nice it would be to walk to the store, for 15-year-olds to get a job bagging groceries – the conversation isn’t necessarily about the “health effects” of community conditions. The key is finding messages that resonate.

To put it simply: the community mood has improved. There is a totally different vibe than there was in Allen County ten years ago. For example, the community built and is still building trails to increase community connectivity and opportunities for physical activity. Initially when the group started building trails, people claimed no one would use them, but the culture changed. People tend to do what they see others doing; if you see people walking or biking, you’re more likely to walk or bike. Slowly but surely, they’ve changed the culture in a way that’s respectful and culturally competent but that also brings about the kind of change that is necessary for rural communities to survive. People are more receptive to improving the health of the community than they ever have been; as more work is accomplished, more people reap the benefits and recognize its worth.

“There is a science to community conversations: you have to set the chairs in a specific configuration, so no one is left out, and have the meeting regularly at the same place and the same time.” – Dave Toland, Executive Director, Thrive Allen County

THE FUTURE

The hard work is just beginning. Although much has been accomplished, Allen County is still ranked 84 out of 105 counties in the state, according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. An upcoming health equity project is slated to address the most disadvantaged town in the county, which has daunting rates of poverty, cynicism and lacking physical infrastructure that we take for granted in 2018 (e.g., multiple boil orders per year due to contaminated water, sewage backing up into peoples’ homes). However, there are people and groups dedicated to solving problems that have always been perceived as impossible, and to create conditions for residents to meaningfully engage in locally-led work that will continue to make progress towards getting things “back on track” throughout Allen County.

Spotlight Stories: Allen County, Kansas

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Allen County, Kansas is a rural county located in the southeast part of the state. It’s made up of ten cities, the most populous of which is Iola – the county seat – with 5,600 residents. Allen County has experienced a century of decline in population, as well as economic and health conditions. People were reluctant to fill the few jobs available, in part because they simply did not want to live in Allen County. As a result, in the early 2000’s, local residents found themselves “chasing smokestacks” in futile efforts to recruit a factory to town. But, recruitment was unsuccessful and the situation became untenable: the hospital was deteriorating, community institutions were starting to fall apart, and the basic conditions that make a community livable were starting to disappear. Ultimately, a group of locals — ranging from healthcare providers to a domestic violence shelter — recognized that existing efforts were unsuccessful; a new approach was needed.

THE CHALLENGE 

There is an assumption that in rural counties everyone knows and talks to each other regularly. This isn’t actually the case in Allen County, which lacks population density – distance between communities creates physical barriers to gathering together, to community fellowship. Whereas previously, people might have met on Tuesday mornings at the local diner, or Wednesday evenings at the Lions Club, these opportunities no longer exist. The local diner closed; the Lion’s Club disbanded; even some churches dissolved. In addition, a lot of people come to rural America because they don’t want to be bothered by other people – there’s a sense of “rugged individualism” that can hinder collaboration and community.

THE COLLABORATION

Community members seeking change understood that they had to be disciplined about engaging residents in community improvement efforts, including meeting regularly, rain or shine. Efforts are intentionally inclusive, county-wide and resident-led. The group creates a safe space for conversation so folks are able to learn what is going on in neighboring towns, talk to each other and share ideas. Because physical distance and isolation make it difficult for people in some towns to be involved, the group makes an effort to meet in smaller towns (e.g. Savonburg, population: 103) and bring others from around the county.

They’ve also sought to shift the paradigm around community engagement to create opportunities for people to get involved on their own terms – people will volunteer to do things they want to do and work on things they care about. If someone volunteers to help build trail on Saturday morning, they aren’t asked to do volunteer dental screenings next month. This approach creates a sense of comfort and ownership in volunteering among community members.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

The group has developed techniques for engaging local government in efforts to improve community wellbeing. Specifically, they’ve focused on strategic framing of issues. For example, although most of the county is in a food desert, that isn’t the focus of policy discussions around planning for a new grocery store. Instead, they talk about how nice it would be to walk to the store, for 15-year-olds to get a job bagging groceries – the conversation isn’t necessarily about the “health effects” of community conditions. The key is finding messages that resonate.

To put it simply: the community mood has improved. There is a totally different vibe than there was in Allen County ten years ago. For example, the community built and is still building trails to increase community connectivity and opportunities for physical activity. Initially when the group started building trails, people claimed no one would use them, but the culture changed. People tend to do what they see others doing; if you see people walking or biking, you’re more likely to walk or bike. Slowly but surely, they’ve changed the culture in a way that’s respectful and culturally competent but that also brings about the kind of change that is necessary for rural communities to survive. People are more receptive to improving the health of the community than they ever have been; as more work is accomplished, more people reap the benefits and recognize its worth.

“There is a science to community conversations: you have to set the chairs in a specific configuration, so no one is left out, and have the meeting regularly at the same place and the same time.” – Dave Toland, Executive Director of Thrive Allen County

THE FUTURE

The hard work is just beginning. Although much has been accomplished, Allen County is still ranked 84 out of 105 counties in the state, according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. An upcoming health equity project is slated to address the most disadvantaged town in the county, which has daunting rates of poverty, cynicism and lacking physical infrastructure that we take for granted in 2018 (e.g., multiple boil orders per year due to contaminated water, sewage backing up into peoples’ homes). However, there are people and groups dedicated to solving problems that have always been perceived as impossible, and to create conditions for residents to meaningfully engage in locally-led work that will continue to make progress towards getting things “back on track” throughout Allen County.

Spotlight Stories: Greenville, South Carolina

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Greenville, South Carolina sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, close to the North Carolina border. Whereas a little over a decade ago, the city was trying unsuccessfully to attract new residents after decades of population decline, Greenville’s population has been steadily climbing since 2005. The US Census Bureau named it the fourth fastest growing city in 2016 — a testament to local infrastructure investments, and commitment to downtown revitalization, and resulting job market strength.

THE CHALLENGE 

Although Greenville’s population grew quickly after 2005, the community faced health challenges. Specifically, the county’s obesity rates were some of the highest in the U.S. As awareness grew throughout the nation around the serious negative health effects of obesity, prevention efforts gained momentum and funding opportunities arose. With its high adult and childhood obesity rates, Greenville was a prime funding candidate.  

THE COLLABORATION

LiveWell Greenville was launched in 2011, with initial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and became the community’s primary network of organizations partnering to ensure access to healthy eating and active living. The network implemented a collaborative, common-agenda approach before the notion of “collective impact” was commonplace. LiveWell Greenville introduced a new way of thinking about community change that is intended to be lasting and intergenerational. They focus on enhancing each other’s capacity to share resources for common goals. Their work stems across policy, environmental, and attitudinal changes. It isn’t prescriptive; it’s responsive to community needs, which leads to community trust and allows the work to snowball.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

As LiveWell Greenville’s work progressed, other community efforts evolved to address other health issues, recognizing the many conditions contributing to community wellbeing. Greenville implemented a job training and matching program, focused on matching people with jobs that result in wages that support upward economic mobility. The Greenville Homeless Alliance strengthens collaboration in the delivery of services to prevent and address homelessness. Livewell Greenville staff engaged in these efforts to encourage leveraging contributions to enable partnerships with local government and private businesses, and it’s working. One such indicator is the shift of the philanthropic sector engagement in advocacy and supporting functions that were traditionally left to local government. The City of Greenville recently partnered with two local philanthropic foundations to fund an affordable housing study and corresponding development of a strategic plan to address identified issues. Community stakeholders were engaged to develop recommendations, and the result was starting a housing trust fund. For the first time, the City setting aside $2 million in surplus funding to seed the trust, which was leveraged with additional philanthropic and corporate funding.

Perhaps most notable, Greenville’s non-profit community has refined their approach to community work, including identifying levers for attitudinal change and focusing efforts towards gatekeepers and those with much community influence. An example of this is how they’ve engaged the Greenville business community in efforts to improve city transportation. Hospitality is a growing part of Greenville’s economic health, but some business owners cannot afford to stay open within city limits due to lack of employees who can afford to commute downtown (from their more-affordable homes in the outskirts of the city.). Greenville efforts are using news and social media to frame public investment in transportation as imperative to local business and economic growth. The strategists of this endeavor hope this approach leads not only to attitude change and improved public policy, but also to long-term improvements and solidification of wellbeing as a common community priority in Greenville.

“Now more than ever the community voice is active, but we need to figure out how to position and channel the voice in a way that influences policy leaders. We’re at a point where we want to set up the dominos, so that when one falls, the other solutions start to fall into place, too.” – Sally Wills, Executive Director, LiveWell Greenville

THE FUTURE

LiveWell Greenville is hopeful regarding continued community commitment to a common agenda and aligned momentum going forward. Acknowledging that the conditions contributing to wellbeing are interconnected, The Graham Foundation, one of LiveWell Greenville’s partners, recently established a learning community network to facilitate collaboration, learning and support among strategists and those “leading the charge” in community improvement efforts.  Each of these strategists and change agents have worked hard to build a collaborative base; the opportunity is ripe to focus on the big picture, mobilize collective voices, and intergenerational impact that comes with attitude, systems, and policy change.

Spotlight Stories: Omaha, Nebraska

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Situated in Douglas County on the Nebraska side of the Nebraska/Iowa border, Omaha is the state’s largest city with a population of roughly 450,000. Around 2013, at a time when national juvenile arrest rates decreased, Douglas County remained nearly 50% higher than the national average.

THE CHALLENGE 

Despite having ample resources (good public and private schools, corporations, universities, relatively low cost of living), Omaha has a history of disparity. At one point the poverty rate for African American youth was among the highest in the nation. There is a long track record of high incarceration rates for young people, with the majority of arrests for nonviolent crimes, and with disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system. There have been community efforts to decrease the youth incarceration rate, but the work tended to be siloed. And, while rates decreased overall, the disparity between white and not-youth in the system continued to climb.

THE COLLABORATION

Collaborative funding from a mixture of public and private sources enabled Operation Youth Success (OYS) to work with local elected officials and stakeholders to assess the juvenile justice system. The group came together around the common goals of improving experiences young people have in the system and decreasing overall youth incarceration rates. Assessment results were used to inform efforts such as creating new services and building in alternative consequences so fewer youth enter the system, aiming towards large-scale outcome improvements. The group has a continuing focus on improving community engagement and includes community leaders with unique perspectives (e.g. a former police chief-turned nonprofit executive serving a low-income community). They hand-pick champions from various sectors and work towards engaging local families and young people in visioning and making decisions about how to improve their systems. They strive to be inclusive of residents  rather than the traditional method of recruiting a few agencies, officials, and nonprofits to make all the decisions.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Historically, representatives from Omaha neighborhoods that are disproportionately affected by poverty, unemployment, and resulting increased chance of youth incarceration, haven’t taken part in system reform work. Engagement with those with lived experiences with the juvenile justice system has led to an approach that is fundamentally different than what has gone on before: those most affected by the juvenile justice system are now a part of the decision-making process and share their direct experiences to shed light on improvements the county needs to focus on. The results are promising. There is a focus on upstream causes of youth entering the system in the first place, and an effort to eliminate the school-to-prison-pipeline through joint training with school resource officers on alternative interventions. Police report more positive relationships with schools and school-based arrests have decreased. A diversion program that provides young people additional extracurricular opportunities (clubs, sports teams, etc.) was formerly only accessible to students who had been ticketed by a law officer at school; now, it’s available to students before law enforcement gets involved.

“We’re still building trust with the community and families, and system stakeholders who feel we could be doing more to change the juvenile justice system and produce positive results for their community. We’re three years in and some of those relationships are still fragile. Building trust takes time, turning a battleship like the juvenile justice system takes time, but we are determined, and I am determined, to not have another generation exist without having the opportunity to be contributing members of society.” – Chris Rogers, Douglas County Commissioner

THE FUTURE

If the initiative can withstand the early growth phase, Omaha community members agree that there is a lot of opportunity for what the future holds for their community and juvenile justice system, in particular. In terms of community engagement, they’re working to improve the process, asking questions like: What does consensus look like? What does governance look like in these groups? How do you balance ideas and perspectives from a wide range of people?

Additionally, the judicial court bench will change within the next few years, due to both natural turnover and expansion. Incoming judges will provide new leadership, which will require more relationship-building, training and perspective. There is an ongoing focus on reversing the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) with the system, in fact Douglas County recently received a federal grant to specifically address the DMC issue, which enabled them to hire a DMC coordinator. There are also plans to build new juvenile justice facility and implement a programmatic philosophy that incorporates trauma-informed approaches and family experience.

Spotlight Stories: Snohomish County, Washington

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Located just north of the city of Seattle, Snohomish County is the third most populous county in Washington, technically part of the Seattle Metropolitan Area. The county is one of the fastest growing in the nation and boasts a strong economy. While the majority of residents are white, there is a fair amount of diversity, and almost 20% of the population speak a language other than English.

THE CHALLENGE 

A strong economy doesn’t equate a lack of health challenges. While Snohomish County is home to one of the largest aerospace and advanced manufacturing sectors in the nation, it is also home to some of the most marginalized and underserved communities. Population is rising rapidly – the northeast region of the county including the cities of Arlington and environs are expected to be among the fastest growing areas of the state. Snohomish County traditionally has been relatively “young” but will be at parity with the rest of Washington State by mid-2020s – the age wave is being felt with particular impact. Suicide rates are above norms; the ratio of mental and behavioral health providers to population is very low.

THE COLLABORATION

In 2013, leaders from a variety of community sectors wanted to improve the health of the community and launched the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition, which leverages its leadership accountability and combined expertise to address the challenge of delivering sustainable healthcare. In 2015, the Providence Institute for a Healthier Community (PIHC) was formed, and became the backbone support organization to the SnoCo Health Leadership Coalition. The SCHLC and PIHC are working on a range of innovative partnerships to improve overall health and well-being of the community.

The coalition built a foundation for LiveHealthy2020, which engages a broad cross-section of partners around a common focus to improve the health and economic vitality of Snohomish County. The work centered around increasing physical activity, improved nutrition, mental/emotional wellbeing and civic health. The result: a shared community vision to improve health, quality of life and competitiveness in a globalized economy. Initiatives included decreasing food insecurity, developing more walkable cities, and implementing mental health first aid. PIHC is using a strong Community-Based Participatory Research component and allowing community members to report health issues that are important to them and build a plan around that. Anchored within the healthcare system, PIHC’s focus is to improve self-reported measurable health and wellbeing by 5% over a 5-year period.

“Without a standard of what health and wellbeing looks like in a community, and if people don’t feel they can take up their work without a common language, progress will be slower. We’re avoiding that.” – Scott Forslund, Executive Director of Providence Institute for a Healthier Community

THE BRIGHT SPOT

PIHC created an annual countywide Health & Well-being Monitor survey, and is working with community partners from across sectors to administer them in English, Spanish and a growing range of languages, which has created common ways the community defines health and wellbeing, as well as a common measurement system around which to collaborate and address health needs. The local medical system has made a commitment to improve health in the community and is engaging the community to do so in a meaningful, multigenerational way. This includes systematically screening people for seven non-medical needs in the course of normal care at Providence health centers, local federally qualified health centers such as Community Health Centers of Snohomish County, and a growing number of other community partners. They’re looking to expand this model into the home-health setting, and to non medical settings. They’ve established seven outlined issue-specific leadership groups — “hubs” — who review data and determine where gaps exists and work together to fill those gaps. This model enhances cross-sector collaboration; for example, the Human Services Commission in county government is in the housing hub because they have a number of contracts with local housing groups.

Importantly, Snohomish County recognized that while you can survey adults to determine their needs, this isn’t necessarily a reliable way to assess youth needs. They’ve developed a youth council in partnership with local Boys and Girls clubs, made up of 18,000 youth; Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and a range of other organizations supporting youth including organizations connected to the City of Arlington, whose experience with a massive landslide in recent years has redefined how civic leaders approach governing. The young people were guided through a process in which they identified three priority issues affecting them: addictions (including screen addictions), bullying and violence, and relationships. The group is bringing together a score of local organizations to pledge commitment to the youth-identified needs and the youth will select one priority area in which to partner and put together resources to make change in their community.

THE FUTURE

According to the community, establishment and implementation of a community-driven, common assessment, intervention, and reassessment process has created the plumbing to be able to have a common view going forward, that hasn’t existed before. The integration of the local healthcare systems, community development organizations, local government, and more, implementing this common measurement system, is invaluable. Moving forward, the community can understand what the health needs are throughout the county and how needs differ based on geographic locations throughout the county, which in turn allows for better delivery of medical care, transportation, housing and food assistance. They’re building visibility around existing options for accessing care, tailoring options and resources based on neighborhood, and expecting improved health outcomes in the future.

Visualizing Wellbeing: Belonging and Civic Muscle

To create conditions for community wellbeing we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Wellbeing series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative

Belonging and Civic Muscle

Belonging & Civic Muscle is about having fulfilling relationships and the social support needed to thrive. It’s about being part of a community, contributing to its vibrancy, and co-creating a common world.

Social support through friends, family, and other networks contributes to our practical and emotional needs, enhances mental well-being, helps us navigate the challenges of life and reinforces healthy behaviors. People with a stronger sense of efficacy, belonging and social connectedness tend to live healthier, happier lives.

At the community and neighborhood level, social cohesion strengthens social ties and engenders collective attachment. Higher levels of social cohesion are associated with higher levels of trust, cooperation, and social capital which provide the necessary foundations for working together across groups and sectors, and builds the “civic infrastructure” needed to co-create a shared future. Thus a virtuous cycle is created in which working together builds stronger communication which in turn fosters connectedness and mutual obligation. As a sense of being valued and cared for within a community grows, people become more confident and willing to participate in community, contributing to its vibrancy and affecting change.

Connectedness

Future levels of community connectedness depend upon how well young people are connected now. Impacts of persistent disconnection among young people accrue at individual and community levels. Vulnerable youth are cut off from people, institutions, and experiences through which they develop knowledge, and build skills and a sense of purpose for productive adulthoods. Social isolation precipitates loneliness, self-doubt, depression, anxiety about the future, and adoption of unhealthy behaviors. As they grow, disconnected young people are less socially mobile, less engaged in civic life, more likely to become justice-involved, more reliant on public assistance, and generally experience lower levels of physical and mental health. The following visualizations explore youth connection.

A Representative Electorate

Elections at the local level are essential for creating a government that is truly representative of its constituents. Unfortunately, voting participation in the United States is poor, trailing most other developed countries. Certain groups face significant barriers to voting such as strict voter ID requirements, gerrymandering, frequent changes to polling-sites, and language gaps. A stalemate on structural and legal reforms to increase participation in the political process continues to undermine the representativeness and health of our electoral democracy. The following visualizations explore voting participation.

Freedom from Oppression and Hate

Cultural oppression throughout the history of the United States has devastated many communities. Cultures have been erased, traditions and languages lost, and communities continue to be oppressed and fractured by persistent bigotry, racism, and hate. The impacts of these deep inequities are evident across every dimension of well-being. Yet, communities remain resilient and efforts to preserve cultural identities have expanded in recent years. Expression of culture builds community, cohesion, and social capital. The following visualizations explore hate groups and hate crimes.

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Spotlight Stories: DeKalb County, Georgia

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Located in DeKalb County, the East Lake community is approximately 5 miles east of Downtown Atlanta. By the mid-1990’s, like so many other public housing projects in communities across the U.S., conditions in East Lake Meadows had become so unbearable that a small group of key stakeholders agreed that “tinkering around the edges wasn’t going to be enough,” according to Carol Naughton, then senior staff for the Atlanta Housing Authority.  

THE CHALLENGE 

In 1995, the East Lake Meadows Housing Project was plagued by:

  • A crime rate 18 times higher than the national average;
  • A $35M drug trade – annually
  • A 13% Employment Rate (87% Under-/Unemployment Rate)
  • 60% of residents were on public assistance
  • An average annual income of $4500 per household;
  • Only 1/3 the area high school students graduated from high school (students were more likely to be a victim of violent crime than graduate high school)

THE COLLABORATION

Leaders of the East Lake revitalization effort drew initial inspiration to make a change from two publications – a New York Times Op-Ed, which reported that 70 percent of prisoners in the NY State system came from eight neighborhoods in New York City; and the findings of a federal blue-ribbon commission that published the distressing state of the nation’s public housing projects. The partners at East Lake took action and over the course of the next several years uncovered a policy framework, strategic direction, and the political leverage to redirect local, state and federal resources toward the transformation of the most-deserving, and high-opportunity community.

It was Naughton’s boss at the Atlanta Housing Authority, then-Executive Director Renee Glover, who joined forces with a local philanthropist, Tom Cousins, and a very committed and effective civic leader and East Lake Meadows resident, Eva Davis, to form an unprecedented, powerful alliance. This core group was forged through countless meetings, strategy sessions, sub-committees, and years of visioning, trials, tests, missteps, and trust-building. The three leaders, along with other stakeholders, worked their way through early challenges, each playing instrumental roles in cultivating civic, social, political, and financial capital within their respective domains, as well as across key stakeholder groups.  Early leaders may not have had “a roadmap” to follow, but they did have a strong sense of direction, as well as an equally strong set of values, principles, and aims. Their aims were: 1) Reduce crime; 2) Improve the quality of affordable housing and create mixed-income housing; 3) Increase access to high quality education; and 4) Promote family economic success. They also had a new kind of organization to rely on, the East Lake Foundation, which became what is now known as the “community quarterback,” a newly-created nonprofit devoted exclusively to the immediate and long-term needs of the neighborhood and its residents. The East Lake Foundation was created through the CF Foundation (Tom Cousins’ philanthropic foundation) to guide and facilitate the work on the ground along with the Atlanta Housing Authority, resident leaders, and over time other private philanthropic partners and public partners, including Atlanta Public Schools.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Today, the East Lake campus generates substantial, sustainable economic benefits, including: economic impacts of expenditures flowing from institutions that comprise the East Lake campus, new commercial developments, and the PGA TOURChampionship; higher household incomes for public housing supported residents; above-average appreciation of home values in the surrounding neighborhood; lifetime benefits of improved educational outcomes for children from birth to college; and avoided costs of reducing crime and saving high-risk youth. Through the work of numerous public, private, nonprofit and civic stakeholders, the broader East Lake community has seen a more than $400M return on investment over the first 20 years of the revitalization. This includes the opening of a full-service  grocery store; a full-service bank branch office; and a gas station – all of which remain open today (among other small businesses).

THE FUTURE

Because of the investments and coordinated approach by the partners at East Lake, everything has changed since the beginning of this effort nearly 25 years ago. One hundred percent of non-disabled working age adults are employed or in an educational training or job readiness program; the median household income has increased five-fold to $24,157 for working families receiving housing subsidy at The Villages of East Lake; and the neighborhood has experienced an 86% reduction in total crime and a 97% reduction in violent crime.  East Lake’s crime rate is consistently lower than the city-wide rate.

The Villages of East Lake, the mixed-income apartment homes that replaced the East Lake Meadows complex, has been fully leased for 20 years. The next phase of mixed-income housing at The Villages is slated to break ground in late 2018, adding more than 100 apartment homes, 70% of which will be for low- and moderate-income families.

The Charles R. Drew Charter School, which opened in 2000, has ranked amongst top 10 schools in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district in each of the last eight years. The high school’s first graduating class (2017) achieved a 100% graduation rate along with a 100% College Acceptance Rate. This class also achieved an 82% College Enrollment Rate – the highest in APS.

For these families, children, and the entire East Lake Community, the future is certainly looking bright.  The East Lake Foundation’s success gave rise to Purpose Built Communities, a national nonprofit created in 2009, that has since created a network of 17 other East Lake Foundation-like nonprofit community quarterbacks in 16 cities across the country to transform their distressed communities.  East Lake Foundation and Drew Charter School continue to disseminate best practices and lessons learned to help other neighborhoods break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. The future for East Lake Foundation will be to sustain the healthy outcomes it has catalyzed since its inception.

Visualizing Wellbeing: Reliable Transportation

To create conditions for community wellbeing we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Wellbeing series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative

Reliable Transportation

Reliable Transportation is about compact, walkable, accessible communities, in which mobility is ensured no matter a person’s means, mode or ability. Where streets are safe, and transportation systems are sustainable.

Everyone needs transportation to move consistently and safely between the many places we must be – home, work, school, stores and more. In the United States, personal vehicles are the predominant transportation mode, yet they produce many negative externalities from pollution to traffic to sprawl. Many people can’t or don’t drive, and rely on public transit and other means to get around. Transportation options have a strong influence on access to jobs and social mobility. Transportation also plays a role in our activity levels, with active transportation – walking, biking and transit use – helping us to incorporate physical activity into our day-to-day lives.

Safe Streets

Motor vehicle crash deaths dropped significantly during the 20th Century largely due to improvements in vehicle safety features, including airbags, seat belts and car seats. Despite progress, motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of injury and death in the United States, and the leading cause of accident death among teens. And while overall traffic deaths have dropped, pedestrian deaths make up an increasing proportion. Safety of our streets and transportation systems can be improved through community design like by reducing speed limits and building safer sidewalks and crossings. The following visualizations explore transportation safety by examining traffic and pedestrian fatalities.

Sustainable Transport

Automobiles are a major source of environmental air pollution and a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Despite improvements to fuel efficiency standards and a growing variety of hybrid and electric vehicles, gains are undermined with more vehicles on the road, older vehicles on the road, and people driving more. Investing in transit, walking and biking, and designing more compact communities are ways to help decrease reliance of automobiles and create more sustainable communities. The following visualizations look at vehicle miles traveled and estimated carbon emissions.

Transportation Options

Many Americans can’t or don’t drive, and many don’t own or have access to private vehicles. Many who don’t drive rely on alternative and public transportation options. Mass transit systems provide critical services that are affordable and accessible to people of all ages, abilities and income levels. Across regions, mass transit systems can help to reduce air pollution, and can be leveraged for economic and community development. In recent years, active transportation – walking, biking and transit use – has emerged as a powerful strategy to increase mobility for all, while encouraging physical activity, and building safer, more complete communities. The following visualizations explore commute patterns by mode.

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Visualizing Wellbeing: Healthy Environment

To create conditions for community wellbeing we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Wellbeing series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative

A Healthy Environment

A Healthy Environment is about having a clean, healthy environment for all: one that is free from environmental hazards, one that is resilient to future changes and threats, and one that fulfills our needs to connect with nature.

Healthy environments provide clean air, clean water, clean land, and well-functioning ecosystems, vital for the flourishing of life and the economic engines that underpin our communities. A bad environment can lead to acute and chronic health problems ranging from premature death from air pollution, cancer from land and water contamination, developmental disabilities from mercury and lead, and a range of other detrimental outcomes. Where direct health impacts are not a concern, environmental degradation can still threaten the natural systems upon which humans rely. Pesticides can break links in the food chain, polluted runoff can destroy productive estuarine systems, and climate change can cause severe weather events, flooding, and change growing conditions in food producing areas.

Poor and/or dangerous environmental conditions are not distributed evenly. Due to the concentration of industries, weather patterns, past dumping, and upstream pollution, some areas bear disproportionate impacts to environmental hazards. Communities of color and low income communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, termed environmental racism.

Environmental Quality

Large-scale systems in our economy – food, energy, transportation, healthcare, water, and land development – have significant negative environmental impacts, including pollution and climate change. The United States began addressing environmental issues seriously in the 1970s in response to dangerously high levels of smog, rivers so polluted they caught fire, and communities with high rates of cancer linked to dumping of toxic chemicals. Progress has been substantial with improvements nationwide in air quality, significant reductions in pollution from factories, power plants, cars and sewage treatment facilities, removal of lead from gasoline and paint, and improved management and disposal of hazardous chemicals and waste. Despite progress, serious and in many ways more complex challenges remain, including cleanup of contaminated lands, ongoing and emergent threats to air quality, and negative environmental impacts linked to climate change.

Changing Climate

Named the greatest public health challenge of the 21st Century, global climate change promises disruptions to basic systems upon which humans and the natural world rely, and presents significant threats to the health and well-being of communities around the United States and the world. Impacts of climate change vary between communities, with certain places facing more significant problems or challenges, and all communities needing to prepare for change. Rising temperatures and extreme heat events are already affecting communities around the United States, and are expected to intensify throughout the 21st Century. Extreme heat can exacerbate respiratory problems, trigger heat stress conditions and increase mortality rates. It is particularly harmful for older adults, young children, and people with chronic health conditions. Extreme heat is making certain places in the United States unliveable and driving the migration of “climate refugees.” The following visualizations explore extreme heat projections, an indicator of climate change.

Connection to Nature

We are part of the natural world ourselves, and our wellbeing is intimately connected to it. Being in nature or even observing it has significant positive impacts on physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Evidence suggests that when people are connected to nature they are happier, healthier, more focused, more creative; being in nature can relieve stress, improve mental state and increase physical activity levels. Some have argued that humans distancing ourselves from nature has enabled the environmental degradation observed today. The following visualizations explore connection to nature by looking at the USDA Natural Amenities Index.

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Spotlight Stories: Stockton, California

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Stockton is a city of over 300,000 diverse residents located in northern California’s Central Valley on the San Joaquin Delta. In the mid-1840s, the city grew as a supplier to gold rush miners and then in the 1930s reinvented itself as a shipping port for agricultural and manufactured goods. Since the 1930s the city has been impacted across all social determinants of health by the repercussion of red lining practices. In the past two decades, Stockton has been a perennial candidate for “Most Dangerous” or “Most Miserable” city in U.S. lists by popular publications. New leadership and an engaged base of community members and cross-sector stakeholders are turning things around.

THE CHALLENGE 

For decades, residents of south Stockton have suffered the impacts of poverty and crime fostered by institutionalized racism, local government corruption, and years of financial abandonment. Many residents, particularly communities of color, reported that they didn’t feel like they belonged in Stockton and didn’t feel welcome in the city. In 2011, Stockton became the largest U.S. city at the time to declare bankruptcy, creating a power vacuum that resulted in an opportunity for residents and civic leaders to disrupt the power structure and support the ideas and hopes of new and bold leaders like 28-year old Mayor Michael Tubbs.

THE COLLABORATION

With an appreciation for the historic roots of the challenges residents of South Stockton face every day, coalition building and civic engagement efforts began 4 years ago. Based on a  “2050 Vision”, the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition has organized and enhanced efforts to transform community through improving safety, education, health, housing, jobs, and community engagement. A distributive leadership model across the public, private, and nonprofit partners have allowed the Collaborative to initiate systems change and policy development across sectors. This has paved the way for sustainable models for change, such as a cradle-to-career pathway, community advocacy and trust building program, and trauma-informed systems plan.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Graduates from South Stockton typically indicate a desire to live elsewhere upon graduation from college. This was driven by the lack of job opportunities, housing, safe neighborhoods, and a sense that they didn’t belong. At last year’s high school graduation – for the first time – students reported that they look forward to returning to the city. The youth of South Stockton are beginning to see the spirit of change and the opportunity to contribute to making a difference. Graduates from the last two years participated in College Signing Day, celebrating their decisions to attend college, trade school or the armed forces. Last year, youth advocates also successfully led the charge to the Stockton Unified School District to offer ethnic and local studies courses at high schools in an effort to improve equity and civic engagement efforts. This year, they advocated for more academic and behavioral health counselors at schools and initiated restorative practices in several schools.

The Reinvent South Stockton Movement is youth-led and is creating a new narrative of hope and optimism for the city.” – Hector Lara, Reinvent Stockton, Co-Founder

THE FUTURE

With a philosophy of innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to investing in people, Stockton’s efforts to reinvent itself are gaining traction. Leaders are creating structures to build a culture of engagement, implementing trauma-informed care strategies and reconciliation programs with local law enforcement to help residents heal from decades of trauma and violence. Philanthropic investors have also partnered with Stockton to initiate the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, one of the first guaranteed income projects in the nation, and the Stockton Scholars initiative, which guarantees that all graduating seniors for the next 10 years have funds for higher education. If this year’s All-American City Award from the National Civic League is any indication, Stockton will go far in its community-building efforts for generations well into the future.

Visualizing Wellbeing: Humane Housing

To create conditions for community wellbeing we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Wellbeing series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative

Humane Housing

The vital condition of Humane Housing is about having stable, safe places to live, and living in diverse, vibrant communities that provide what is needed to live full, productive lives.

We are able to thrive when we have secure, consistent places to live; when our homes and neighborhoods are safe from hazards; and when our neighborhoods provide what we need for our lives and livelihoods. Housing is the biggest expense for most Americans, and thus housing affordability is a significant factor in financial well-being. Homeownership has long been at the center of the American Dream helping build family wealth, and stable diverse communities. Without humane housing, the hope of healthy and well communities diminishes.

Diverse, Stable Neighborhoods of Opportunity

We thrive when our neighborhoods provide what we need for our lives and livelihoods, including jobs and economic opportunity; needed services and resources; safe places to walk and play; and a sense of belonging and connection to place. Unfortunately, not all neighborhoods provide what is needed for community well-being. Throughout American history, neighborhoods have been segregated by race, and along economic lines. Segregation amounts to systematic disinvestment that is made possible through inequitable policies and practices, like urban renewal, exclusionary zoning, and predatory lending. Neighborhood quality and conditions also affect our sense of community and connection place with major implications for wellbeing. The following visualizations explore residential segregation and housing stability.

Affordable Housing

Soaring rents and home prices in major American cities are a bellwether of an urban housing affordability crisis that’s been on the horizon for quite some time. An urbanization movement has been underway in the United States for more than a decade, with urban renaissance happening rapidly in some places, and without pre-planning to secure permanently affordable housing or establish safeguards that protect communities from negative externalities of development, like gentrification and speculation. The following visualization explores housing affordability.

A Place to Call Home

Having a place to call home plays a significant role in health and well-being. Homelessness in the United States has decreased over the last decade, yet remains persistent persistent, and an indicator of other deep inequities and failures of multiple system. A number of factors contribute to the risk of homelessness, including housing instability, affordability and discrimination, physical and mental health, and domestic violence. The following visualization explores the homelessness in the United States.

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Spotlight Stories: New York City, New York

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

New York City is easily one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the nation. Home to over 8.5 million residents, New Yorkers reside among the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

THE CHALLENGE 

One in five adult New Yorkers experiences a mental health issue in any given year. For the city’s children and adolescents, the high rate of predictors for mental health issues—traumatic events, persistent feelings of sadness, and parental mental illness—are just as alarming. While mental illness does not discriminate among ages, it occurs with much higher prevalence in low-income and less educated individuals, the uninsured, and those receiving public insurance.

Frontline staff members at community based organizations (CBOs) have frequent and meaningful contact with low-income New Yorkers – working with them to address issues ranging from early childhood development, employment and education. Case managers and service providers consistently report that many of their clients appear depressed or anxious and suspect that these challenges interfere with clients’ abilities to achieve their programmatic goals. Yet while social service staff members often receive some training in mental health issues, they typically do not have the ongoing coaching and support from mental health experts necessary to effectively sustain and integrate this knowledge in their work, nor the needed substantive partnerships with mental health providers to successfully make the necessary referrals. Without expertise in mental health, CBO staff often become aware of underlying mental health issues only after a client performs poorly – whether on a job training site, in caring for their children or in attaining educational goals.

THE COLLABORATION

The Mayor’s Office coordinated among the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC create Connections to Care (C2C) — an approach that builds the mental health care capacity of CBOs serving low-income communities, especially where people may not know they need help, or are reluctant to access care. The C2C model allows non-clinicians to administer evidenced-based mental health practices, in settings that meet New Yorkers where they are in their daily lives. At the time of its inception, C2C invited non-mental health providers that offer services to jobseekers, youth who are not in school and not working, and parents of children ages 0-4 to partner up with local mental health clinical providers and be trained in the C2C model. By engaging non-clinicians in addressing mental health, NYC is expanding the concept of care to include prevention and wellness promotion, rather than only treatment.  Those identified through C2C to need clinical treatment are referred to the appropriate clinical partner.

C2C is one of 54 initiatives under ThriveNYC, a comprehensive effort to improve the mental health system and promote the wellness of New Yorkers. Launched by First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray in 2015 to address the city’s silent mental health crisis, ThriveNYC is guided by six core principles: change the culture, act early, close treatment gaps, partner with communities, use data better, and strengthen government’s ability to lead.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

What happens when community organizations and clinicians develop previously untapped capabilities and take on new roles to collaborate in addressing mental health? Goals are blown out of the water. Launched in 2015 as a five-year demonstration, C2C aimed to train 1,000 staff but three years in providers have trained over 1,200. The number of clients served by C2C has also surpassed initial targets, with over 16,000 New Yorkers receiving the mental health screenings and services. And leadership at the community-based organizations is already reporting that increased mental health support is helping to improve outcomes in employment, education, and family stability.  RAND Corporation is conducting an evaluation of C2C’s implementation, impact, and cost and will release an interim report in fall 2018.

THE FUTURE

Comprehensive mental health services are the future for New York City. Every staff member, every healthcare provider, and every participant has a role to play in helping someone. That’s the future for C2C. Acknowledging that it takes every person along the journey to connect New Yorkers to services to help them live their best lives is a major driver for C2C and ThriveNYC. New York City is fostering hope necessary to lean into a culture of resilience. Identifying needs early on and connecting people to care sooner will lead to better outcomes for generations to come.

Visualizing Wellbeing: Meaningful Work + Wealth

To create conditions for community wellbeing we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Wellbeing series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative

Meaningful Work + Wealth

Meaningful Work & Wealth is about personal, family, and community wealth that provides the means for healthy, secure lives. It is about good-paying, fulfilling jobs and careers, and financial security that extends across the lifespan.

People’s lives and self-worth flourish when doing productive, rewarding work. The income one earns prevents material deprivation; and the experience of productive work itself converts dependency into a dignified sense of purpose. Even beyond the immediate importance of earning a paycheck, meaningful work lifts up entire families and communities, creating a vibrant and interdependent commonwealth. The promise of America’s democracy is best fulfilled when we work with others, across differences, to create things of lasting value. Likewise, the ability to accumulate adequate wealth shapes the living standards not only for individual families and communities, but for generations to come. Being able to afford assets like a home or a computer opens avenues to participate more fully in work, school, and community life. Also, the chance to build financial equity, for example through a retirement account or by owning shares in a company, enables people to invest in education or to start a business of their own.

Gainful Employment

Although, the U.S. is now considered at full employment, the modern economy is marked by a chaotic – and frightening – mix of layoffs, career transitions, underemployment, unpaid internships, and temp jobs in what many call a “gig economy”. Many have left the labor force completely. The archetype of a secure, dignified, good-paying job is gone. The following visualizations explore employment and labor force participation.

Employment Benefits

Over the last few decades there has been a shift in the kinds of benefits provided by employers, in part due to the decline of unions and collective bargaining. Retirement is an important example. On their own, many Americans are not saving enough, if anything at all. Only about half of all Americans are offered retirement plans through their employer, and the vast majority of those without employer-offered plans don’t save for retirement. Those with high incomes and those in union jobs experience greater retirement security. The following visualizations explore employment benefits – including retirement and paid leave.

Just Compensation

We are in the midst of an unprecedented shift of wealth from what once was a large middle class to the top 0.1% of the population. Such stark economic inequity is greater in the U.S. than every other developed nation, and most sharply felt by women. Despite gains over the last several decades that have increased women’s participation in the labor force, gender imbalances, discrimination, exploitation and disparities persist. In many workplaces and professions, women still earn less than men, struggle to advance, and experience sexual harassment and assault at heightened rates. Many workplaces also don’t offer supports for women to fulfill family and care-taking roles, like family leave. The following visualizations explore the gender pay gap.

Limited Debt

A large portion of Americans are saddled by debt – from their educations, their vehicles, their homes, their spending. Debt is a source of financial insecurity, economic immobility, and stress for many. The following visualization explores debt in the United States.

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Spotlight Stories: King County, Washington

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

King County, Washington, home to nearly 2.2 million people, is the 13th largest county in the country and anchored by the city of Seattle. About two-thirds of the county population lives in Seattle’s suburbs, which include nearly 40 cities and towns, as well as a large, mostly rural unincorporated area. King County was formed in 1852 and named in honor of William Rufus DeVane King, an Alabama senator and slave owner, who had just been elected to serve as Vice President to Franklin Pierce (for whom the neighboring county to the south is named). In 1986, the King County Council officially rejected their connection to a man who “maintained his lifestyle by oppressing and exploiting other human beings.” Instead, they renamed their county in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who better embodies “attributes for which the citizens of King County can be proud, and claim as their own.” Their choice to embrace a legacy of inclusion over oppression is a clear signal and a practical step in King County’s still-unfinished quest to become a place where everyone has a sense of belonging, is able to fulfill their potential, and can contribute.

THE CHALLENGE 

King County is a experiencing high population growth because of its economic vitality, natural beauty, and progressive values. But growth also comes with challenges, such as pressure on housing affordability, traffic congestion, and economic inequity. More and more people are being displaced, and Matias Valenzuela, director of King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice points out that data show “deep and historically based chasms” by race, place, class, gender, immigration status, and other distinctions.

Over the past decade, equity and social justice have emerged as explicit criteria for the new legacies that King County seeks to create. This is long-term work, yet approached with the urgency of a present, pressing crisis. It is “an ardent journey toward well-being as defined by those most negatively affected.” Far from a romantic vision, this work is widely understood to be “disruptive and demanding vigilance.” According to the county’s official strategic plan for equity and social justice, “being ‘pro-equity’ requires us to dismantle deeply entrenched systems of privilege and oppression that have led to inequitable decision-making processes and the uneven distribution of benefits and burdens in our communities.”

THE COLLABORATION

Current efforts to enhance equity and social justice (ESJ) in King County are formal commitments, backed by the force of law and institutional obligation. A common equity framework, a local ordinance, and a strategic plan establish a shared foundation for understanding, focus, transparency, and accountability. County Executive Ron Sims first elevated ESJ priorities in 2008, which were further formalized by Executive Dow Constantine and the County Council via ordinance in 2010. ESJ is now an integrated part of operations for the county as well as many cities and towns in the region, supported by dedicated staff in an ESJ Office, along with a widening network of partners.

Upholding ESJ values requires doing business differently, with many partners. King County employees and community partners developed a shared blueprint for change in the form of their six-year ESJ Strategic Plan. From the outset, the planning process was designed to hear from people across sectors, geography, and populations. Over 600 County employees and 100 local organizations collaborated to create the ESJ Plan. Its goals and measures inform county practices and strategies that are making a difference.

“A major goal for King County is to build bodies of evidence for institutionalizing equity—creating new, better systems and dismantling those that have perpetuated poor outcomes—to create a more fair, just, and effective government and society.” –  Matias Valenzuela, Director, Office of Equity and Social Justice 

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Many communities in America care about equity and social justice. However, King County has done more than most to make it an operational and continuous priority. The County recognizes that much work still needs to be done, especially in terms of racial equity, and that many communities continue to fall behind.

The open and ambitious ESJ values the County and their partners have established have inspired a mosaic of impressive endeavors, each designed to create the conditions for more equitable health and well-being across the county. Some of these include:

  • Best Starts for Kids, the most comprehensive approach to child development in the nation;
  • Communities of Opportunity, a growing movement to assure that being housed, healthy, employed, and connected to one’s community are basic human needs regardless of race or place;
  • HealthierHere, an Accountable Community for Health that is redesigning how health care happens, and channeling new resources into a “Social Equity and Wellness Fund”;
  • Sound Transit 3, a $54 billion mass transit expansion;
  • The Road Map Project, to improve education from cradle to college and career;
  • Familiar Faces and other justice reforms intended to decrease the population in detention while reducing racial disproportionalities.

Most recently, The Seattle Foundation announced strong support for the Civic Commons, a “new regional civic infrastructure to unite more community voices in decision-making.” One of the first priorities is to nurture a novel venture called You Belong Here, which builds a leadership ethos that crosses traditional networks. This stance is also the official governing philosophy of the King County Executive Dow Constantine. It counters divisiveness and increasing disconnection with an unequivocal commitment that King County will be a place where all people feel that they belong and can contribute.

In his 2017 “State of the County” address, Executive Constantine reinforced this sense of community connection by recalling our temporary place in the long legacies of generations past and future.

“We are all guests here. Unless you are among the native peoples of this land, no one of us has a particularly superior claim to the bounty of this place. Each of us should have the chance to participate, and to contribute to the best of our abilities, and to thrive. That’s a big part of who we are…Our message to newcomers and old-timers alike is simple: This is your home. You Belong Here.”

THE FUTURE

The many partners who strive to create equity and social justice in King County understand the hard work ahead. They know that “our status quo responses are, in many ways, resulting in a potentially vicious cycle creating more division and dislocation.” That is precisely what moves them to act with the conviction that “through inclusion, addressing some of our toughest issues head on, expanding who’s at the table and challenging ourselves to work in a way that reflects our highest values, we can co-create the civic muscle that allows us to make headway against our most entrenched problems together.”

Early indicators show promising signs of transformation, broad public support, organizational change, and community outcomes. And, King County is in it for the long-term, knowing that the last decade of planning, engagement, and action will yield more positive outcomes over time, even though there are market forces and other factors pushing in the opposite direction toward inequity and injustice.

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Spotlight Stories: Proviso Township, Illinois

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Located just nine miles west of the city of Chicago, Proviso Township is one of 29 townships in Cook County, Illinois. An urban community, the township spans just 30 square miles and has a population of roughly 150,000. The Township is diverse, with roughly one third Hispanic, one third black, and one third white.

THE CHALLENGE 

Proviso Township experienced adult and childhood obesity rates much higher than national rates. There was no grocery store, and few goods and services were owned by black and Latino residents. There were also disparities in education, socioeconomics and health outcomes, and a significant number of formerly incarcerated residents trying to “get back on their feet.” The community experienced institutional racism, community segregation, and racial conflict as decision makers and community champions all grappled separately to identify pathways for positive community growth.

THE COLLABORATION

Similar to many comprehensive, place-based community improvement efforts around the nation, Proviso’s work began with obesity prevention. Proviso Township is proud to host Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H), a multi-sector coalition developed to ensure healthy food access and community economic development. PP4H started their obesity prevention work with a $10,000 grant from Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), a regional champion and a summit including themselves, the Cook County Department of Public Health, and the local United Way. A number of other local organizations had a ten-year history of working on smaller projects in less-organized ways, contributing to a common sense of trust among them, but there wasn’t previously sufficient infrastructure for large-scale collaboration. Funding through the 100 Million Healthier Lives SCALE 1.0 initiative enabled them to capitalize on pre-existing community trust to accelerate community improvement efforts. By 2016, Proviso Partners for Health had the infrastructure and community of solutions skills to apply for the Trinity Health’s Transforming Community Initiatives grant.

Today, PP4H’s list of partners is impressively long, with representation from local school districts, academic institutions, government, hospital systems, law enforcement, business, social service organizations and nonprofits. They value balanced power and diversity, with sixty percent of leadership African American and Latino. The group has open meetings and communication, collects and shares community data, and continues to foster community trust through promotion of common ownership of problems and solutions, as well as consistent resident engagement. They view work as accountable to the community, as well as to the funder.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Proviso Township has experienced community transformation through collaboration. To address high foreclosures, unemployment and crime, they’re developing affordable housing with storefronts on the lower level. They worked with local schools and community-based organizations to develop a community leadership academy, which builds capacity for residents and organizations to see their role in policy, system and environmental change. The academy is popular because it gives the community tools to be their own voice and remove barriers to policy, systems and environmental success. Organizations and individuals are tapping into unprecedented potential. For example, a resident who had worked in domestic violence prevention for a decade with no funding was able to create a nonprofit organization and secure funding in less than a year after attending the academy. The academy serves as an incubator for creating sustainable models for downstream work, including worker-owned coops, urban agriculture, and school-based healthy food initiatives.

“What we were doing started to become a model for other communities. We’re focusing on how we can share our success to enable others to have the same kind of success.” – Lena Hatchett, Co-Founder of Proviso Partners for Health

THE FUTURE

Although much has been accomplished, PP4H still has a long road ahead. Just recently, a press release was launched outlining the health disparity issues throughout Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health is leading an initiative in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to address this issue, and PP4H is hopeful that more of this work will be led through state pathways and funding moving forward. Overall, the future looks bright: PP4H went from $10,000 in funding to $3 million today, and they hope to double that amount in the next two years. They’re future focus includes improving community safety, more measurable results and sharing success.