Guest Author: Rachel Danner, Rural Forward NC Summer Program Associate
Healthy Places NC Agency Partners meetings allow many groups working in five Healthy Places NC counties to come together on a quarterly basis to make connections and deepen their understanding of the complex matrix of work taking place across North Carolina to improve health outcomes. At the May 18, 2017 meeting, people working across food systems, disease prevention, community infrastructure, and healthy eating and active living gathered to explore the interrelatedness of their projects, and align their work as much as possible to maximize impact.
As a summer program associate on only day four of my internship with Rural Forward NC, I had a lot to learn, and a lot of new people to meet. During the twenty minute “agency speed dating” activity at the beginning of the day, I got a chance to talk to representatives from MDC, an organization that works with community colleges and community college students to improve health outcomes; the Walking Classroom Institute, which creates podcasts for elementary-aged students to listen to and learn from while engaged in physical activity; and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, which initiated Healthy Places NC and funds many of the agency partners. All the people I met shared with me their dedication to improving the health and wellness of North Carolinians, and their accounts of successes and advances were inspiring.
This is not to say, however, that there are not significant challenges to tackling poor health outcomes in rural communities. Healthy Places NC is a long-term place-based initiative, meaning that successes are hard to measure, and may play out over the course of decades. Those convened do not shy away from addressing some of these issues. A question and answer session with representatives of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust allowed agency partners to raise concerns over what collective impact looks like, and express the need for data showing tangible outcomes. The structure of the meeting also allowed groups who may normally not encounter one another to make connections about how their work could be mutually supportive.
One such example of this connection-building took place during the “County Table Talks” towards the end of the meeting, which allowed agencies working in the same counties to discuss challenges and successes, barriers and strategies, as well as next steps and ways to amplify impact. I sat in on the Rockingham County group along with Jessica Burroughs, the Partnership Manager at Rural Forward NC, Joey Peele, the Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living in Rockingham County, and Jenna Bryant, the program manager at MDC. After discussing the desire of many community groups in Rockingham County to do a community needs assessment, Jenna brought up the possibility of leveraging the resources of the community college and its students to develop, distribute, and analyze a survey. Jessica and Joey committed to exploring this possibility, and to maintaining communication between Rural Forward NC, the Catalyst Program, and MDC. Although some of these conversations were cut short by the end of the meeting, I am confident that the connections made at this quarter’s Health Places NC Agency Partners Meeting will lead to new innovations, developments, and partnerships in the effort to make North Carolina a healthier place.