The Centers for Disease Control hereby awards a grant to the Hamilton County General Health District in support of the Building a Healthy Nation – Strategic Alliance for Health project.
When these words were written ten years ago, none of us knew how much they would impact the lives of so many. As WeTHRIVE! celebrates its 10th anniversary, we’re looking at how the initiative started, expanded, and continues to THRIVE today.
In the beginning
In September of 2008, Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH) was one of seven sites across the nation to receive the Strategic Alliance for Health (SAH) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The SAH grant focused on building community capacity to establish policy and environmental changes that promote physical activity, healthy eating, and tobacco-free living.
Our three priority communities — Lincoln Heights, Lockland, and Woodlawn — were chosen because data showed that they experienced a higher burden of chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, as well as difficulty in accessing health care. The fact that these communities border one another would also allow for greater opportunity to work together and build upon efforts.
Year one was of the SAH grant was a planning year, giving us time to gain a better understanding of each community and build a solid foundation. We mapped assets and opportunities, met with residents and key stakeholders, and researched each community’s unique background and history.
Getting our foot in the door would prove to be tricky. Historically, communities associate the health department with “enforcement” and things like restaurant inspections and notices of safety violations. This doesn’t always help public health educators make friends. But with persistence and time, relationships were established, many of which still exist today.
The first meeting
The first meeting of the Community Consortia was held on March 31, 2009 at the Lincoln Heights Health Center. This was our first chance to bring together people from all three communities to talk about the SAH grant. Twenty-one residents and partners attended to discuss data, the project, and next steps.
I remember a feeling of skepticism among some folks at the meeting. Past experiences with other organizations had led to a sense of caution and guardedness. We believed that residents truly know their community best and we emphasized that this was to be a community-driven project. Over time, trust was built and more people got involved.
Community wellness in action gets an identity
After our first few Community Consortia meetings, it became clear that the SAH project needed an identity. While this was a grant-funded project of HCPH, the community members stressed the importance of having an identity that was independent of HCPH. A marketing firm was hired to help design an identity, or brand, that would encompass the goals and objectives of the project, as well as build awareness and unite Hamilton County communities.
Community members participated in the process, selecting “WeTHRIVE!” as the brand name. The tagline, “Community Wellness in Action,” was created to encompass all strategies a community might address. In August 2009, the Community Consortia selected the final logo:
New funding stimulates growth
In 2010, HCPH received two additional grants to build upon the work started in the Lincoln Heights, Lockland, and Woodlawn. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) focused on healthy living strategies aimed at preventing childhood obesity. The Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant from the CDC focused on preventing chronic disease and promoting wellness in children and adults.
With this additional grant funding, resources, and partnerships, the WeTHRIVE!℠ initiative really grew. We expanded into other Hamilton County communities, including: Addyston, Amberley Village, Avondale, Cheviot, Cleves, College Hill, Madisonville, North Avondale, North Bend, North College Hill, Northside, Norwood, Roselawn, and Wyoming.
After four years, the WeTHRIVE! initiative was beginning to bear fruit. A few highlights included:
- 28 shared use agreements were formed, opening 44 physical activity spaces for public use to 347,609 residents.
- 35 community, school, and church gardens provided fresh produce to 18 communities.
- 40 venues received physical activity equipment or enhancements, such as fitness equipment, skate park amenities, and lighting improvements.
- 55 child care providers serving 5,174 children implemented WeTHRIVE! resolutions with physical activity and nutrition policies.
- 61,000 students in 11 school districts received healthier food through the adoption of competitive food policies.
(For additional highlights, check out the WeTHRIVE! 2012 Annual Report.)
By the end of 2013, all three of the grants ended. Without grant funding, the initiative’s future was uncertain and most staff moved on to new opportunities. This left us with one question: “Now what?”
The remaining staff saw this time as an opportunity to assess WeTHRIVE! What worked well? What would we change? How could we set a new direction for the initiative? We really tried to figure out how to build on the momentum that was created and use the expertise we had within HCPH and our partners.
A new beginning
So in 2014, WeTHRIVE!’s focus was expanded to improve the overall health, safety, and vitality of our communities. In addition to chronic disease, we added pathways to address emergency preparedness, environmental health, injury prevention, social health, and substance use/abuse prevention.
To become an “official” WeTHRIVE! community under the new program, communities would voluntarily: adopt a resolution, establish a WeTHRIVE! team, choose at least one pathway to focus efforts, and participate on the WeTHRIVE! Learning Collaborative.
The HCPH Board of Health made a long-term commitment to WeTHRIVE! by allocating funding for the first time for two staff members to work on the initiative. Additionally, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners presented a proclamation encouraging all Hamilton County communities to engage with WeTHRIVE! and declared April 16 as “WeTHRIVE! Day.”
A model for the nation
In 2017, WeTHRIVE! was selected as a Model Practice by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Model Practices Program. What an honor it was to accept the Model Practice award on behalf of HCPH and all those involved with the WeTHRIVE! initiative in Hamilton County. (You can read more the award here.)
In 2019, we now have 24 WeTHRIVE! communities, with the potential to impact more than 270,000 residents through community-based health and safety initiatives. While there is no longer grant funding attached to being part of the WeTHRIVE! initiative, communities continue to engage year after year because they truly care about healthy, safe communities for all.
In addition, six school districts and more than 100 child care providers have also committed to health and wellness as part of WeTHRIVE!
Achieving ten years
The 10th anniversary of WeTHRIVE! is about honoring our past, celebrating our present, and embracing our future. We know that the initiative would not be where it is today without the support of so many dedicated and hardworking people and partners. And for that, we thank you!
Much has changed, yet the core principles on which WeTHRIVE! was founded ten years ago remain the same:
- WeTHRIVE! is community-driven. While the integrity of the WeTHRIVE! process should be maintained (as a national model practice), our team is flexible and always meets communities where they are. Our goal is to keep people and communities engaged in working toward health, safety, and vitality for all.
- WeTHRIVE! is unifying. The “We” in “WeTHRIVE!” was chosen for a reason. We believe that we can do more by working together.
- WeTHRIVE! is versatile. The tagline “Community Wellness in Action” was also chosen for a reason. We recognize that needs vary from one community to the next. A broad tagline allowed for expansion into any area of focus that would support health and safety.
I hope you’ll consider engaging with us so we can THRIVE together today, tomorrow, and beyond.
Rebecca Stowe, M.Ed., MCHES
Director of Health Promotion & Education
Hamilton County Public Health