Hey Honey this is what I do: Citizen-Centered Health Promotion

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Live Well Lauderhill

“Going Places” Photo Credit: Kevon Bachelor

My primary audience for this post is my husband (17 years next month!) because he unfortunately has to answer this question for others all the time, “what does your wife do, again?”.  He’s actually not convinced I work at all because I just hang out with people I really enjoy, learn about their hopes, dreams & challenges, help them tell stories about their community’s goals, go on a bunch of walking tours, learn, learn, learn, present ideas to policy makers, host a community dance party or two, present about it at some conference, write a few grants, then take a nap.  It’s all pretty messy, super fun, and keeps the lights on around here.

So honey, as I start up another project in Broward County, FL with amazing colleagues at the Urban Health Solutions/Urban Health Partnership, Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Healthy Community Zone project thought I’d write about why someone hires me and what we’re trying to accomplish together.

I work with leaders to build healthy communities through policy, system, and environmental change. (the previous sentence is an example of “grant vomit”).  I like to explain environment as a fast running river.  If you jump into the fast running river you can swim against the current and go upstream.  It will be difficult and you will have to be committed and have the skills and strength to persevere.  It’s not impossible, but very tough.

Most people won’t swim against the river, or they will for only a short time.  This is the experience of an individual living in a community.  If their community supports health it may have safe places to walk or bike to errands, work, and school.  It may have anti-tobacco policies in place.  It may have access to affordable healthy foods and provide healthy meals at schools. It may have limited advertising for unhealthy products.  Individuals can still choose sedentary behavior, unhealthy foods, tobacco usage, and other negative health behaviors, but they will be less convenient than the healthy choice.

Changing the direction of that fast moving river to support healthy behaviors is what policy, system, and environmental change is all about.  We say, our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy and affordable choice.  Notice, it’s not about taking away choices.  It’s changing the current so that as we go with the flow we are moving towards healthier behaviors and communities.  It’s what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls building a Culture of Health.

I don’t make this stuff up.  Take a look at Citizen-Centered Health Promotion:  Building Collaborations to Facilitate Healthy Living published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and available on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.  Citizen-centered means looking at how an individual’s choices are impacted by all of the environments she/he interacts with.  Our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and larger communities all impact what choices individuals have.  People exist in environments. Communities across the country are recognizing that they have to build a network of these environments to support individual health.

That’s what I do, help people build that network.  Here’s my job description below, found on page S44 of the article:

 A third party is often necessary to convene potential partners, solve logistic challenges, and pool resources to facilitate collaboration. For the majority of success stories involving effective community partnerships, third parties supported by philanthropies or public funding—a community organization or research institution—were key to “connecting the dots.” To make such collaborations scalable and sustainable over time in ordinary settings, where grant support and research investigators are lacking, an infrastructure for third-party support must be available to help communities undertake citizen-centered redesign. Each community must have access to an entity for on-the-ground assistance in building partnerships and designing solutions to help citizens sustain healthy behaviors.”

I build the coalition and help the coalition build the plan.  I basically do three things for communities in this role:

Translation–I am a generalist and I know enough about most sectors that impact the individual to translate among different groups (schools, transportation, housing, business/private sector, higher education, community based organizations, food systems, public health, etc.)  In the article above it’s called “connecting the dots“.

Boil-Down–I believe in using simple language and strive for clarity.  I muddle through “grant-vomit”, business jargon, academic yammering and all other forms of scrambled communication.  I refuse to use the word “stakeholders” (which is just a personal preference, I’m sure you’ve got your pet peeves in this category as well.)  Communities just want to be happier and healthier.  It’s complicated but requires simplicity.

Draw the Picture–Everything is about painting the picture.  We need to see it, experience it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and process it.  Yes, we need the 20 (or 200!) page document that backs up our work, but we need a picture of where we’re going and what it will look like.  That comes from pulling people together, learning, and drawing the picture…and that is what I do.

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A park in the center of the city: Sycamore Park #WalkingWednesday

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Despite being only 2 miles from the center of downtown Lansing, this WalkingWednesday through Sycamore Park felt like a trip up north.  The neighborhood is filled with old growth trees, piney woods, and open green space.  It’s within easy walking and biking distance from many other beautiful parks, like Fenner Nature Center, Sycamore Golf Course, and Potter Park Zoo.  Hop on the River Trail and you can quickly access Ingham County Parks, downtown, and MSU.

It’s bordered on the north and the east by water (lots of it right now as the Red Cedar River and Sycamore Creek are very high due to heavy rain).

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

Looking north towards Potter Park Zoo

River High Water

Looking east along the Red Cedar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The green space assets of the neighborhood are stunning and on this beautiful June evening, the beauty of the area was on full display.  This area is known for its bird wildlife and is home to a heron rookery and a bald eagle’s nest.  Learn more in this Nature Discovery article.

Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association president Paul Wozniak provided a walking map (my first neighborhood to hand out maps for #WalkingWednesday!) Find our more about the Sycamore Park Neighborhood Association on Facebook.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

Sycamore Park walking tour covering a part of every street in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has many long term residents.  Our tour was a mix of newer and longer term neighbors. Top reasons I heard for choosing Sycamore Park (in no order) were:

  • Proximity to downtown and MSU & convenience to everything
  • Access to the River Trail without crossing any major streets
  • Neighborhood friendliness

Houses are a mix of 1920s – 1940s single family homes with interesting architecture and tons of charm.

Mt. Hope Elementary

Mt. Hope Elementary School

Mt. Hope 4-6 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math) School sits on the neighborhood’s southern border.  The school playground, basketball courts, and green space add to the recreational opportunities & beauty of the neighborhood.  School leaders and the PTA partner with the neighborhood organization on many events.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs.  Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Neighbors at one of the welcome signs. Neighbors care for the planting/weeding of these entryways.

Bordered by both Pennsylvania Ave and Mt. Hope, commercial corridors have an impact on the neighborhood.  Neighbors are happy with the increased commercial activity at the Mt. Hope/Penn intersection with the addition of Central Pharmacy Vacancies still exist on the south side of Mt. Hope and neighbors are hoping for new tenants in those spaces.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

Heading south along Pennsylvania Ave.

 

Long time local businesses such as Smith Floral continue to provide commercial activity in the area

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

Looking south across Mt. Hope to Smith Floral

 

 

 

 

 

 

We waved to many neighbors enjoying the beautiful weather on their front porch and took a peek into the Little Free Library:

A little house of books

A little house of books

ShubelParkTreesAlongRiver

 

 

 

 

 

 

We headed back to the park for a summer time treat and were all really impressed with the watermelon slicer!

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Paul introduces us to the wonders of the watermelon slicer

Amazing!

Amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to meet many neighbors and see your beautiful homes. Enjoy the summer in your park in the city!

This #WalkingWednesday was the first attended by our AmeriCorps VISTA members in our Cities of Service Love Your Block program.  Learn more about their work and see their blog post about the Sycamore Park tour at Lansing Love Your Block

 

 

#WalkingWednesday with SOCA (Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association)

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Another #WalkingWednesday filled with stories of the past & ideas for the future mixed with coffee, snow, great people, walking, & beer.

Our host was Rory Neuner, Director of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association https://www.facebook.com/SOCALansing and we were looking at the far western edge of the area this organization serves.

First stop was Biggby Coffee http://www.biggby.com/index.php at 2002 W. Saginaw, one of the top performing Biggby franchises in the whole company.  While the interior seating is limited in this location, entryways from both Saginaw & Oakland make for easy use of the drive-thru which was busy during our entire visit.  The Biggby staff was hopping the whole time and happy to tell us that their store was among the top 25 last month in company sales last month.  Go Lansing!

Biggby staff get us ready for the weather with some hot java

Biggby staff get us ready for the weather with some hot java

We headed out to check out “The Point” a triangular plot of land bordered by Saginaw, Oakland, and Stanley as you enter the City of Lansing limits from the west.  The community is dreaming of an upgrade to this entry point which could beautify the entryway and provide some traffic calming features.

Looking west toward "The Point" currently only marked by the small wood sign.  Neighbors would like a grander, more welcoming entrance to the city.

Looking west toward “The Point” currently only marked by the small wood sign. Neighbors would like a grander, more welcoming entrance to the city that communicates the vibrancy of the surrounding neighborhoods.

A feature of this stretch of Saginaw is the protected bike lane which heads all the way east to the River Trail.  This is one of the few protected bike lanes in Michigan.

Connecting neighbors to the River Trail and Downtown Lansing.

Connecting neighbors to the River Trail and Downtown Lansing.

We then headed slightly east and noted the existing businesses along the corridor including car sales, a Famous Taco, and others.  The Irish Pub building continues to undergo renovations and the neighborhood anxiously awaits its return to business.  The latest Facebook about post about progress was on June 2, 2014 https://www.facebook.com/IrishPubLansing I would love to give an update if anyone in the know can post to comments or contact me!

Irish Pub was purchased approx 2 years ago.  The neighborhood is anxious for this local favorite to reopen.

Irish Pub was purchased approx 2 years ago. The neighborhood is anxious for this local favorite to reopen.

We were then off to Harry’s Pub.  We headed through the neighborhood which once was home to Verlinden Elementary, a beautiful building which continues to serve children and families as Scribbles and Giggles Child Care http://www.scribblesandgiggleschildcare.com/ and the hulking Fisher Body Plant, which now stands as an empty field with the remnants of the plant foundations.

 

Foundation of the former Fisher Body Plant from the north.  The neighborhood looks forward to its redevelopment someday.

Foundation of the former Fisher Body Plant from the north. The neighborhood looks forward to its redevelopment someday.

 

 

Scribbles and Giggles had a full playground of children out enjoying the snow.  Heard the giggles loud & clear!

Scribbles and Giggles had a full playground of children out enjoying the snow. Heard the giggles loud & clear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The surrounding neighborhood is served by the Westside Neighborhood Association http://wnalansing.com/, one of Lansing’s best organized and most active neighborhood associations.  Neighbors organize events, community wide garage sales, and neighborhood cleanups.  Their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/WestsideNeighborhoodAssociation/ has 915 members and their neighborhood pride is evident throughout the entire area.

We headed down Verlinden Ave to Harry’s Place, which once served the workers at Fisher Body.  Since the plant closing, the neighborhood has rallied to support Harry’s.  An old (2011) but good background story can be found at http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-5625-harryrss-place-changes-with-the-times.html.  I’d suggest stopping in and talking to anyone there for more details as the staff & regulars are happy to share.  Owners Harea & Hugh Bates continue to grow the business with a combination of great food and hospitality.  Hugh told us business continues to rebound and said that he used to only roll 18 rolls of silverware for the lunch “rush” and that was plenty.  Now, he’s rolling 125+ and going through them all. I had more than one patron tell me it’s the best pizza in town.   It’s worth a trip just to meet Hugh and hear about the history of the neighborhood and Harry’s–he was born to run a great neighborhood joint and I’m glad he found his way to that career after retiring from GM.

Hugh Bates (L) and Rory Neuner of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association

Hugh Bates (L) and Rory Neuner of the Saginaw Oakland Commercial Association

A Westside treasure

A Westside treasure