TWO COUNTIES IMPROVING HEALTH AND WELLNESS ONE PARTNERSHIP AT A TIME.
Jennifer Sanchez McDonald, Southeast Colorado
Two rural counties in southeast Colorado, Huerfano and Las Animas, are improving their health and wellness future. Our counties are working collectively toward a healthier future despite their previous rankings as being two of the unhealthiest counties per the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; despite inter-generational poverty, unhealthy choices, lack of capacity and prevention opportunities, increase substance/ alcohol abuse, food desert/insecurities, housing concerns and more.
Health and wellness is more than an annual well child check or physical; it’s more than the absence of disease, it’s a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Health and wellness begins with the food we consume, the physical activity, housing, transportation, safety and other factors that affect our health. We all want to be healthy; yet we have numerous resources available within our communities and beautiful natural backyards; which are often underutilized.
Health and wellness is often a topic not fully discussed to its fullest potential. Rather than seeing health and wellness as comprehensive of one another, our society has siloed health and wellness in the past. Now our counties are working on a comprehensive model and future generations will have access, quality and equity across all domains of health. With collaboration and partnerships across sectors from city, county, medical, early childhood, school districts, department of human services, family supports, higher education, mental health, the communities and more; these counties are planning future opportunities that will promote health and wellness for future generations.
“People need to have more conversations around things that are real issues. There’s a lot of stigma around depression and drugs and people need to feel safe having those conversations.”
During my action research process, the two counties have discussed and implemented healthier approaches. A “one stop shop” approach is on the horizon for Huerfano County. A positive community campus that will house public health, early childhood, family support, mental health, human services and community gathering opportunities; instilling a warm hand off approach and provide resources that are limited or nonexistent. This approach will decrease stigma and barriers affecting the health and wellness of a child and their family.
An outdoor play space, called Kaboom, is making a permanent home in Las Animas County. With the community and county support, access to health and wellness opportunities are on the rise. Las Animas County is working toward a comprehensive model, partnering across sectors on projects, such as: workforce wellness, healthy eating, diabetic prevention programs, farm to table and more.
“I see our community trying to make a change for the better. Riding bikes, running, growing gardens and eating healthy”
"Understanding health and wellness is only one of three domains that aid a child to thrive and be successful in life. We all have a role to play, making each county healthy for future generations."
During the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program, I have embraced many opportunities that have strengthened my leadership skills. Reflecting upon these opportunities, I am able to look at my work in early childhood through a new lens. Self-reflection is a crucial leadership skill and an invitation to articulate the connections from our past learning and experiences. Understanding and learning about theories of change, vulnerability and trusting the process can be beneficial. Being in the arena of change is scary at times, leaving you with a feeling of isolation or no guarantees, but could lead to opportunities that may not have been there before. Being self-aware of how we look at ourselves, the work we do, our partners and the people we serve is crucial, as this builds relationship towards successful leadership. I am fortunate for this ongoing opportunity and look forward to the continuing journey.