How exactly do communities pave their Way to Wellville? It’s a challenging question to answer, however it’s one that North Hartford and four other communities across the country are working towards as part of a ten-year journey called Way to Wellville. I’m proud to have joined other local leaders on the North Hartford team, representing Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office) in my role as Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program (AKIP) manager.
I recently travelled to Astoria, Oregon with representatives from the North Hartford delegation to participate in the 2017 Way to Wellville Annual Gathering. The purpose of the annual gathering is to bring the Wellville Five together (Clatsop County, Oregon; Greater Muskegon, Michigan; Lake County, California; Spartanburg, South Carolina; and North Hartford, Connecticut) to collaborate, learn from leaders in different fields, and share successes, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. While each community’s Way to Wellville is their own, we have a common mission: to produce visible improvements in health and economic vitality by addressing factors beyond healthcare that impact health outcomes, such as social conditions, child nutrition, healthy housing, and access to preventive care.
During our three days together, the Wellville Five learned about collaborative governance and team management techniques. We focused on initiatives to improve access to healthy food and ways to keep children healthy during time spent out of school. We also learned about the short- and long-term biological impacts of trauma on health and wellbeing and listened to a panel discussion on strategies to create trauma-informed places.
We also had the opportunity to take an in-depth look at Clatsop County’s Way to Wellville project. We heard from local leaders and local business owners regarding how they are contributing to and supporting Clatsop County’s Way to Wellville. We visited Providence Seaside Hospital and learned about their efforts to make healthy food for employees and patients, and about the relationship between food systems and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. We had dinner at Bridgewater Bistro and learned about sustainable farm to table business models. We also took a tour of the local armory and learned about the community’s efforts to transform it into a community center.
We had dedicated time to work intensively with our team on one initiative supporting our community’s Way to Wellville. Each year, teams have to identify one initiative they want to make demonstrable progress on during the Annual Gathering. The North Hartford delegation used this time to understand and document how existing initiatives align with each other and how they align with community priorities. We also focused on assessing and understanding how the other communities are financing health improvement work, integrating physical and economic development into their strategies, and demonstrating measurable outcomes on food-related efforts. Representatives from the North Hartford delegation provided comprehensive overviews of current initiatives their organizations are implementing, identified opportunities for organizations to collaborate around specific initiatives for greater impact, aligned outcomes from individual initiatives with the goals of North Hartford’s Way to Wellville, and identified strategies to increase team members’ knowledge and understanding of existing community-based initiatives.
While all five communities are unique and face their own set of political, social, financial, and cultural challenges, it was striking to learn that each of the communities are starting their Way to Wellville by focusing on the services and systems that support children and families, particularly those that focus on early childhood development, minimizing the impact of trauma, and building resilience in families using a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach.
- Clatsop County, Oregon is exploring the feasibility of universal pre-kindergarten and creating a trauma-informed community in order to better serve children with adverse childhood experiences.
- Muskegon County, Michigan administered a community-wide adverse childhood experiences survey (ACES) to understand their impact and prevalence in the community and sponsored the first-ever Annual Resilience Month to begin to answer the question, “What are we going to do about ACES?”
- Spartanburg, South Carolina is currently developing the structure for Hello Family, a continuum of services for families with children birth to five that will expand early care and education programs to every child born in the city.
- Lake County, California is implementing a pilot project that integrates mental health services with other county services for those with severe and persistent mental health conditions to determine and track whether those referred for a higher level of care are linked to appropriate services.
- North Hartford, Connecticut is driving greater alignment of resources and collective action among residents, organizations, government, and funders to improve the health and wellbeing of residents and demonstrate value of investment. The North Hartford team is prioritizing alignment and coordination of child service providers to align with the Office’s work to enhance protective factors in vulnerable families through the Strengthening Families Framework, which was developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy.
Like the other communities, North Hartford’s Way to Wellville will be a challenging journey, but it is one myself and other members of our team are proud to take. We are confident that this work will make a measurable difference in the lives of children and families. While there’s no easy answer to the question of how communities pave their Way to Wellville, we know that strengthening families in support of children’s healthy development is a huge step in the right direction.
Connecticut Children’s is teaming up with Community Solutions, the city of Hartford Department of Health and Human Services, the North Hartford Promise Zone, and St. Francis/Trinity Health in the Way to Wellville project benefitting North Hartford.
Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program.