Elevating local leadership in Greenbrier County, W.Va.
As in much of rural Appalachia, loss of local industries and jobs, a lack of investment and scant public transit can make it hard for residents of Greenbrier County to access resources that support health. Despite these challenges, local leaders from this West Virginia County made up of 16 rural communities manage to improve lives and center equity in their efforts.
Greenbrier County Health Alliance (GCHA) is central to the county’s health equity work. Formed by the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) with support from the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI), the alliance focuses on community-driven solutions. The coalition formed a community ambassador program to recognize the diversity of the community and address community concerns. Health Alliance leaders also utilize the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps data and model to set goals and better understand their community’s challenges. And community ambassadors look to What Works for Health to find strategies to meet those challenges.
Community Ambassador volunteers want to improve their communities by partnering with residents on projects that foster health equity.
“Community Ambassadors are folks that know the community and are known by the community,” said Dave Lumsden, GCHA board member. “The knowledge they bring to the table is most valuable to the alliance.”
Ambassador work has included creating a resource map that shows where clinics and walking trails were located to understand gaps in opportunities for health. The program also supported a local organization to host the county’s first ever Pride event to foster social solidarity in the area. This and other work was supported by the Health Alliance’s Community Ambassador Project, which offers technical assistance and awards $1,000 mini grants as seed money to carry out local solutions. The grants are leveraged with volunteerism and partner support.
The Ambassador program has been around since the organization’s start, but that does not mean the program has gone unchanged.
“It’s something that we've refined as we learn, so it is also an outcome of deepening our work,” said Greenbrier County Health Alliance Executive Director Julian Levine.
Greenbrier County is more connected because of how its community organizations, agencies and members work together. They hope to build their capacity for community-engaged research in the region to help even more residents in Greenbrier County improve their well-being.
To learn more about Greenbrier County’s work, visit its full community spotlight.