Given the uncertain times we find ourselves in, social trust, and the lack of it, seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. We know that social trust and the health of communities are fundamentally linked. Yet it’s easy to find fierce dissent playing out in our social media channels and national conversations.
A committed group of residents has been quietly building trust in the City of Niagara Falls since 2015. Supported by the New York State Health Foundation as part of its Healthy Neighborhoods initiative and learning collaborative, the Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative initially set out as a city government-based initiative to improve active living and healthy eating. The Collaborative created a foundation of trust by joining forces with other Niagara Falls partners invested in the community’s health. And it evolved into a resident-led nonprofit organization that’s fully dedicated to equity, health, and social connectedness.
Most of us know Niagara Falls as a destination and spectacular natural wonder. The Falls bring tremendous economic benefit to local businesses, which employ many service-sector workers in this city of 50,000 people. But the city’s working-class neighborhoods, Highland Avenue and Hyde Park, suffer from long-term disinvestment and high levels of poverty, and in turn, there is higher mistrust of government and other institutions.
Unlike many community health initiatives, the Collaborative is led by a resident leadership team of change agents who see their charge as building trust, capacity, and lifting up the priorities of Niagara Falls’ neighborhoods. Central to the Collaborative’s approach is their belief in the power and perspective of community members to create positive change in these neighborhoods. The Collaborative’s work focuses on four key efforts:
Creating healthier communities requires a holistic approach. In Niagara Falls, community members collaborate with and support each other to build trust and social connection as necessary ingredients for well-being. Because of the Collaborative’s emphasis on resident capacity, the impacts of the work they do today will be seen long into the future.