Together, we can do so much more

This post by Stacy Wegley, MS is part of our THRIVING for 10 Years series. As the former director of Health Promotion and Education with Hamilton County Public Health, Stacy oversaw the first four years of the WeTHRIVE! movement. We’re pleased to share her reflections on WeTHRIVE!, from the early days before the initiative even had a name, to lessons learned that she continues to use in her work today.

View from a Jeep

With a newly awarded grant and expanded charge to create healthier communities, three colleagues and I climbed into my Jeep Wrangler and headed north on I-75 to begin a ‘windshield tour’ of Lincoln Heights, Lockland, and Woodlawn.

Our Health Promotion and Education division within Hamilton County Public Health hadn’t had much of a presence in these communities. We were well-versed on their demographics and chronic disease patterns, but hoped a closer look would give us a better understanding of the area. Where were the schools located relative to housing? Did they have green spaces? Sidewalks? Grocery stores? Convenience stores?

After exiting the highway, we passed Wendy’s and Taco Bell on Shepherd Lane and made our way to the Village of Lincoln Heights. We paused at the stop sign on Jackson Street to take in a community hot spot—The Sugar Shack.two story building with sign reading The Sugar Shack, groceries, beer and wine, paintings of people dancing and playing music

As I rolled down my window and began to take a picture, a middle-aged man walked briskly toward the Jeep, asking, ‘Who are you and what business do you have here in Lincoln Heights?’

We quickly explained that we were from the health department, that we were starting a new grant project in the area. The man let us know that, yes, he was familiar with the health department—particularly the restaurant inspector for Lincoln Heights. We made quick work of our first visit that day and returned to the office, where that restaurant inspector was waiting for us. The man had called to make sure we were who we said we were.

Meeting the gentleman on Jackson Street that day ten years ago became the first of many lessons about how to show up and be a partner in communities.

Lessons learned from WeTHRIVE!

In the spring of 2013, I transitioned from my role as director of Health Promotion and Education to join Community Initiatives, Inc., where I’ve continued working with and learning from communities across the country. Working alongside WeTHRIVE! communities, I learned a number of lessons that ring true no matter where you are on the map. I’d like to share some of them with you here.

Weave diverse interests together:
Community stakeholders from municipalities, business, schools, health care, childcare, residents, non-profits, and faith institutions all have important roles to play in creating healthy communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Communities that are the most successful at moving the needle share these practices:

  • Acknowledge their diverse goals.
  • Forge a shared vision—energy + alignment.
  • Learn one another’s language.
  • Achieve diverse goals via common strategies.

Employ a blend of strategies:
Too often the approach is either programs or policies. While policies are often essential for creating population-level change, in the absence of programs, policies tend to be underutilized and unenforced.

  • Use programs as onramps and wraparounds.
  • Leverage policy and environmental changes essential to behavior change.
  • Grow a constituency for changes—promotion can increase demand.

Grow + share leadership:
Distributed leadership at a growing table are key elements to building a movement and creating a culture change. Communities seeing positive momentum often have:

  • Meaningful roles for anchor partners.
  • Diverse and highly relational leadership teams.
  • Clear norms and written agreements (e.g., theory of change, MOUs).
  • Work integrated into roles, job descriptions, and organizational policies.

I will always be grateful for the lessons learned and friends made in my WeTHRIVE! years. There is not a project I do today that isn’t informed by what we created together within the communities across Hamilton County.

Words sum up WeTHRIVE!

As I reflect back and serve forward, one quote from the neighborhood where it all began rises up for me again and and woman putting together playground equipment Volunteers—residents of all ages, elected officials, people from the business community—had spent several Saturdays together, working side-by-side, building a playground piece-by-piece.adults and children cutting a long blue ribbon in front of playground equipment

Having just cut the ribbon to open the new playground, we were marching through the street to celebrate at the corner store that now prominently sold fresh fruits and vegetables.adults and children walking in the street

That’s when I overheard the words that have stayed with me all these years, as the mayor proclaimed, ‘When I saw we could actually come together and do this, I knew we had the ability to do so much more!’

Stacy Wegley, MS joined Hamilton County Public Health as a health educator in 1997. She was director of Health Promotion and Education from 2002-2013.