While remaining consistent with its mission, the Down East Partnership for Children in Nash and Edgecombe counties shifted the frame of its work from educational and social supports for young children and their families to healthy communities. It used established networks and approaches to introduce new ideas about healthy policy and environmental changes, carefully assessed readiness for change among partners and showed people how they could implement the work in their own environments.
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Many people blame the area’s low wages and high unemployment (16 percent in Edgecombe in mid-2009), and a bad economy indeed makes eating healthy tougher. Yet even in better times, the White, African-American and, increasingly, Latino families who populate the small towns and poorer rural stretches in this eastern part of the state have limited access to nutritious food options and few recreational resources.
The Down East Partnership for Children (DEPC) has tackled the problem by breaking the pattern, starting with the counties’ youngest residents.
“While this community has many challenges, we’re committed to making things better for parents and their children,” said Henrietta Zalkind, the Partnership’s executive director.
Backed by research pointing to ages 2 to 4 as a critical period for prevention and intervention, DEPC and key allies launched a Healthy Kids Collaborative to help influence children’s eating habits and activity levels in their early years.
The collaborative is focusing on reducing obesity so that all youngsters can start kindergarten healthy and ready to learn and succeed. It used funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities to continue targeting its pre-school demographic, in part by working with childcare providers so that they only serve healthy food and allow plenty of time for energetic play.
“With so many single parents working long hours or overnight shifts, many of our children end up eating two meals a day while at child care. We have to work with both the parent and the provider to have a real impact,“ said Zalkind.
Medical providers have also been included in the effort because of their role in educating parents about the diet and physical activity young children need, especially children at risk of obesity. Other key collaborative partners are local health agencies, school systems and park departments, the state cooperative extension service and the chamber of commerce in the city of Rocky Mount, which straddles the counties’ shared border.
DEPC, as the lead agency for the HKHC grant, has bridged relationships across disciplines and sectors based on the belief that healthy communities are everyone’s responsibility.
Together, the Healthy Kids Collaborative has:
“We must keep working together to make sure that children born today will be prepared to meet the demands of tomorrow. I am grateful for the hard work, dedication and effort that countless people give every day to make Nash and Edgecombe counties a better place to raise children and support families,” says Zalkind.
For more information, view a short film about their work.