In the beginning, Tonya Key was very skeptical about WeTHRIVE! But she ended up championing the initiative in her community of Lincoln Heights AND went on to join the staff of Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH) to bring WeTHRIVE! to other communities throughout the county.
In 2009, health educators from HCPH started showing up in Lincoln Heights, talking about a new program, the Strategic Alliance for Health grant (later branded as WeTHRIVE!). “It seemed like everywhere I went, they were there,” Tonya said. “I remember thinking, ‘they’re doing an awful lot of talking.’ I found out later that what they were actually doing was a lot of information gathering.”
At that time, Tonya was deeply engaged in Lincoln Heights. Her husband John was a village council member. They both felt strongly about making a difference in the place where they were born. Tonya also grew up in Lincoln Heights.
History caused skepticism
Tonya admits she was doubtful about HCPH coming into Lincoln Heights. “Oh, yes, they received a lot of stonewalling from me at the beginning,” she said. “You have to understand the history of our community. Lots of organizations had come into Lincoln Heights, talking about all these things that they would do. But they did not take time to learn about our community. They never did anything that was sustainable, and they left us with nothing. I figured the health department would be the same, and I told them as much.”
HCPH was persistent. “They kept coming back,” Tonya said. “I remember a meeting at the school, where I was PTO president. They talked about the community health aspect of what was going on in Lincoln Heights, based on the data and the numbers. They said they wanted to engage the community, to see what we wanted to do to help impact those numbers.”
Tonya started to believe that maybe this was different. “Lincoln Heights was a community full of pride, but we had no resources and no connections. I was ready to see some change happen, and I gradually realized that this was it. We could plug into WeTHRIVE! and actually bring about changes in our community — changes that would last for generations to come.”
One of the first changes WeTHRIVE! made in Lincoln Heights was getting St. Monica’s Recreation Center to allow older residents to exercise there. Tonya explained that the nuns who ran the center wanted to keep it a safe haven for children. “Ever since we were able to come in with WeTHRIVE! and open the doors to the seniors, things opened up,” she said. “Now not only do they allow organizations to come in, but the director at St. Monica’s does a very good job of vetting those organizations and they are doing impactful work with youth and families.”
Joining the staff
In 2010, HCPH began expanding WeTHRIVE! under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant. “They were looking for somebody to do community engagement throughout the county,” Tonya said. “Someone to connect with people, churches, schools, and businesses. And they asked if I was interested.”
Tonya said she wasn’t looking for a job and didn’t take it seriously. “But the health department people all wore these WeTHRIVE! polo shirts, so I said, ‘I’ll apply for the job if you give me a polo shirt.’ This became a joke, until they said ‘ok, we’ll give you the polo.’ So I agreed to interview for the position and ended up joining their team as WeTHRIVE!’s outreach coordinator.”
Tonya’s job was to “find people just like me in each community.” She would explain her experience with WeTHRIVE! in Lincoln Heights and ask “how can we help you do the same thing in your community?” Under the CPPW grant, Tonya helped to bring 12 additional communities to WeTHRIVE!, including Addyston, Amberley, Avondale, Cheviot, Cleves, College Hill, Madisonville, North College Hill, Northside, Norwood, Roselawn, and Wyoming.
At the CPPW national convention in Atlanta, Tonya received the CPPW Champion Award. “Being in that room with people from all over the nation, that was huge,” she said.
10 years later
When the CPPW grant ended, Tonya’s position as outreach coordinator was no longer funded. She remains involved in Lincoln Heights and keeps up with WeTHRIVE! “I love that when I go through some of those communities now, like Amberley Village, I still see the WeTHRIVE! signs up,” Tonya said. “And when I see on social media that we are recognizing new people all the time as being champions of their communities, I think ‘we did that!’”
“WeTHRIVE! made us ask ourselves, ‘What is that one small thing I can do to make my community better?’” Tonya said. “This has had a major impact on Lincoln Heights – and all the other communities — and it brought a greater awareness of how our environment can impact our health, in good ways or bad ways.
This story is part of our THRIVING for 10 Years series. Tonya Key was WeTHRIVE! Outreach Coordinator with Hamilton County Public Health from 2010-2012. She currently works as the administrative coordinator for Angels Guarding Youth Foster Care Agency.