For most of us, real life shapes our ability to engage in healthy habits—a long commute, the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables, and community safety all influence our opportunities to be healthy. Oftentimes, where we live, learn, work, and play has more impact on our health than the occasional visit to the doctor's office. That's why United Way and our community partners focus on creating not only opportunities to incorporate healthy living in our daily lives, but also to improve education and financial stability.
A great example is Santa Cruz County, CA. There, public and private community partners have pinpointed areas where they can make the biggest difference. A local health insurance plan has provided coverage to previously uninsured children, youth sparked restaurants to offer healthier options, and the community’s alternative-to-incarceration program helps get people's lives back on track.
Their work, led by the United Way of Santa Cruz County, is being heralded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and was one of 6 communities awarded the inaugural Roadmap to Health Prize. The prize honors outstanding partnerships that change conditions in their community so that people stay healthy in the first place. Learn more at http://www.rwjf.org/en/blogs/new-public-health/2013/02/rwjf_roadmaps_tohea.html?cid=XEM_A6899.
In Santa Cruz, data drives the work, and collaboration fuels it. Every year, the community gathers info on indicators such as air quality, unemployment, high school graduation and crime rates; and determines priorities to tackle for the coming year.
Advocacy and the youth voice are essential parts of the mix. A youth-led healthy restaurant initiative spurred the approval of an ordinance that requires new restaurants and transportation stations to offer and highlight healthy options. It's part of the Go for Health! collaborative where people across the community are working to ensure that options for healthy eating and physical activity are present where they live their daily lives. The result of their work to date: some 150+ public, private and nonprofit organizations have worked together to map out a plan to lower childhood obesity.
Other successes include the creation of school wellness policies to improve nutrition and physical activity levels and the city adopting key recommendations for building safe, walkable, bikeable streets into its development plans. All this couldn’t be done without community residents -- of all ages -- and businesses working together with nonprofits, government agencies, and the local media.
It's inspiring to see how so many people and organizations in Santa Cruz are coming together to make the community a better place. This type of success is not limited to Santa Cruz County. Any community can do this. As Mary Lou Goeke, the CEO of United Way of Santa Cruz County noted, “If all parties work together we can do extraordinary things to improve the lives of people in our community.