What’s the secret to a healthy community? The town of Cicero, Illinois can offer some insight. The Chicago suburb was one of only four communities in the United States to win the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2018 Culture of Health prize. They were honored for prioritizing and creating healthier conditions for residents, using innovative approaches fueled by public, private, non-profit and community partnerships.
In Cicero, community collaboration through the United Way of Chicago’s Neighborhood Network Initiative is making a big difference in creating lasting change.
The Neighborhood Network Initiative works in 10 Chicagoland communities to improve education, health and financial stability. In Cicero, the Initiative partners with a coalition of organizations and community members to solve problems together. That's resulting in safer communities, better education for young children and more residents honing their leadership skills.
Three strategies have made the biggest difference in Cicero, and can help other communities as well:
1. Think about health in the broadest sense. Cicero wasn’t thinking about traditional health, such as going to the doctor and eating right. Instead, the city viewed health through social and emotional lenses. Experts assessed the trauma impact of crime and trained police on how to intervene to get people the help they need. In a community that feels over-policed, they’re flipping the narrative to make sure residents know law enforcement is there to help them, not hurt them.
2. Engage residents from all angles. Parents are taking back the community after years of gang rule. From volunteering in classrooms to patrolling streets, Cicero residents have a hand in connecting families to resources and providing a sense of comfort and familiarity.
3. Provide services where people need them most. When a school-based clinic was nearly shut down, Cicero families rallied to keep it open. They identified places students already frequented that benefited them, and sought out funding to ensure the doors stayed open.
Cicero’s success demonstrates that communities can provide better opportunities for all when everyone has a voice. Engaged residents are key to community action, which generates solutions that help everyone in the community have access to a healthier life.