Twenty years ago George Sedlacek, the Director of Community Health in Marquette County, MI, was lambasted in the local news as a “health Nazi.” Now retired but still active as a community leader, he’s being hailed as a “health hero.” What accounts for the transformation? Sedlacek will tell you he didn’t change; the community’s culture changed.
“I knew we needed to look for lots of community partners to collaborate on this,” Sedlacek said. “The issues are bigger than one agency can take care of."
- Increasing access to healthy food: A local Headstart program also operates Meals-on-Wheels and wanted help for achieving their goals of improving health in low income areas. The Task Force partnered with the group to build five new community gardens.
- Bike racks on buses: The “Healthy Way Challenge,” funded by Blue Cross, supported adding bike racks to buses.
- Creating biking and walking paths: Seven municipalities are working together to create a 48 mile hike/bath path.
- Weight loss challenges: A local hospital, the YMCA and a local newspaper collaborated to create a fitness/weight loss challenge between four municipalities, which included support from personal trainers and weekly community meetings.
- Extending the vegetable growing season: Using money from a statewide tobacco win, a community foundation is supporting the development of three school “hoop houses” that will enable children to eat healthy year-round.
Coombs-Gerou points out that each individual organization might have a small pot of funds, but when they join together they can accomplish a lot more. In fact, funders often require collaboration in order to receive matching funds, so this helped individual partners “give up a little of the pie” in order to “share in a larger pie for all.” Getting a Kellogg grant was testimony to this approach, and solidified everyone’s commitment to “giving up a little to get more.”