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Planting and nourishing the seeds for change: HCCC teams are excelling at community engagement and spurring multisector partnership gains

By Phil Bors and Brittany Perrotte and on September 23rd, 2021

Note: This article is cross-posted on APHA’s Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Communities4Health blog and Healthy Places by Design’s blog.

Despite significant obstacles of the pandemic and systemic inequities, community health leaders continue to advance equity, shift power to residents, and make steady progress towards healthier neighborhoods. In June, we featured the work of Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge (HCCC) grantees and the peer learning network facilitated and coordinated by Healthy Places by Design and its collaborators at APHA, Aetna Foundation, and NACo. We are happy to share these inspiring and hopeful updates from APHA’s most recent HCCC Highlights report. We urge you to read this post from our partner and colleague, Brittany Perrotte.


At a time when a global pandemic made it harder than ever for people to connect, teams from the 20 Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge communities have found ways to successfully grow their partnerships and raise awareness about solutions in their communities related to accessing food and health services.

HCCC project teams have stepped up to support their partners in meeting the immediate needs of community residents, while also planting the seeds for long-term systems change.

Even more impressive, though, is the way they’ve integrated residents into the leadership of their work and shared decision-making power, despite the barriers of social distancing. As a result, community members have more ownership of the successes seen so far. Not only that, but Challenge teams have noticed subtle shifts in thinking within themselves, their organizations, their partners and the broader community to be more inclusive.

Take Kerrville, Texas, for example. The Hope4Health team works in the Doyle neighborhood, a historically segregated community that fell below the radar for decades. The project team has uplifted the Doyle community so that it is no longer isolated, receiving support from organizations and faith-based institutions in other parts of the city.

The work happening in Doyle is now considered to be “the city’s example of a model for change to improve health and wellness,” according to a member of the project team. The team shared that being a part of the larger HCCC initiative lends credibility to their work and has moved others “to take action to be a part of this movement for change.”

As a result of these shifts, and their careful planning and preparation, all 20 communities have achieved exciting new developments in recent months. Our new HCCC Highlights report delves deeper into grantee success stories, updating the work of all 20 communities from January through June 2021. Some of the most outstanding highlights:

  • Project teams doubled the number of attendees at community convenings, which keep the community informed about their work and provide opportunities for residents to be a part of decision-making.
  • Grantees introduced new community engagement practices to share leadership and power with individuals with lived experience, and policies to compensate them for their time and expertise.
  • Thanks to dedicated coordinators, project teams joined with a total of 396 partner organizations and broke down barriers between sectors that historically led to siloed efforts.
  • Communities added 60 new food access points and five new health services access points that include food pantries, meal distribution sites and health hubs.
  • Together, HCCC project teams and community members provided 252,215 individuals with food, 262 individuals with health services and 14,248 individuals with education or support services during a peak time in the pandemic.

But the work doesn’t stop here. HCCC communities will continue to address access barriers to food and health services, employ authentic community engagement and multisector partnership strategies and advance health equity in areas most impacted by chronic disease disparities throughout the final year of the Challenge. Planned activities include:

  • Train and deploy community health workers to conduct food insecurity screenings and connect individuals to needed services.
  • Establish new food policy councils with diverse community members in leadership roles.
  • Advocate for policies that support food access and co-design policy with community residents.
  • Standardize data collection across organizations and create shared data repositories.
  • Create community advisory boards and resident leadership training programs to integrate community members into planning and decision-making.
  • Increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables through community gardens, food prescription programs, expanded nutrition incentive programs, mobile markets and nutrition education.
  • Apply and disseminate research findings to establish community-led plans for systems change and promote adoption of new models and tools.
  • Inform community members of available resources and services through various communications channels and activities.

The coming year should be filled with stories of systemic change in communities, so check back often for updates, and be sure to follow #Communities4Health!

Learn more about the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge and read the full HCCC Highlights report for more insights for community practitioners and funders of systems change initiatives.

If you’re interested in connecting with one of our communities or have resources to share, you can email us anytime.

Author
Phil Bors

Technical Assistance Director

Generous advisor, weeknight advocate, and active weekender.

Brittany Perrotte

Project Director, Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge