Engaging Communities toward change

america-walksLeveraging and engaging community members are important elements to creating more equitable communities. These programs focus on addressing the determinants of health, engaging multiple sectors and leveraging new partnerships, and ensuring sustainability of efforts through capacity building and empowerment of people directly affected by the issues at hand in their communities.

Through this work, healthy communities hope to change the way people thinkpic-2-mcrae not just about health, but also opportunity, and in turn, advance a culture of well-being across not only ones community but the country.  The recent merger of McRae-Helena is a great example of two communities coming together for change.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Heather Livingston, Health Promotion Champion and Liz McLean, City Manager about their community health and engagement initiatives

The City of McRae-Helena was formed on January 1, 2015 when the two cities of McRae and Helena merged. “It has been 94 years since this type of city-city merger has happened in the State of Georgia, stated Liz McLean, City Manager “Limited wastewater capacity in the former City of Helena was the impetus of the merger, but because of geographical proximity and similar service delivery, an innovative merger made sense.”

It is the largest city in Telfair County, Georgia with an estimated population of 8,745 inpic-5-mini 2015. This includes the approximately 2,000-person inmate population held  at McRae Correctional Institution and the Telfair State Prison. In downtown McRae-Helena there is a small replica of the Statue of Liberty and a marble memorial to Telfair County residents who died in military service. The closest city to McRae-Helena is Macon..

Liz  statepic-3-color-rund “The Color Run is the 1st Annual run. We hope to use this event as a way to engage employees and have the community come together for a fun, healthy day.   One person even came from out of state to run in it as they have some family in-town.  The event was successful with 141 runners and over twenty volunteers. Weeks after the event, the community is still talking about what a great day they had,” said Liz.

Liz went on to say, ” We had a lot of sponsor contributions, including volunteers, prizes, food, and drinks. The proceeds will go back to future events and we are are hoping for tourism impact as there is a lot to see in our city.”

ThePic 4 Mansion.jpg former Talmage Mansion , now Sugar Creek Plantation, is a bed and breakfast and a popular event venue.  The telfair center for the arts where the run took place, use to be a college and a arts organization came in and rehabed it and won an award for their efforts.

“We also have other community events such as a Christmas night out and another 5k put on by a local nonprofit organization.  We are looking to offer more events to engage with our businesses and residents.  In fact we are now looking at a more complete streets perspective as planning is just starting. We have a grad student doing a feasibility study to look at things like our local ballpark, which has not been used in 20 years and to turn it into a municipal park,” Liz stated.

“We are focused on Community Health and engagement as we are looking to do more city and wellness programs, and health activities for employees.  The Color run is free for our employees and we are also putting out a survey to find out what else the community would like to see,” said Liz.

Liz mentioned other initiatives currently ongoing in the community such as health incentives for employees, a open streets activity downtown, and sidewalk renovation to improve walkability in the community. A community member reached out to the city regarding health initiatives and now both public and private organizations are working to bring healthier activities to the community.

Our definition of healthy communities continues to evolve as we learn more about the connection between community development and health. While community development is not a discrete academic discipline or an accredited field like public health, it is more than an activity. It is best viewed as a self-defined sector involving organizations from multiple fields that share a common focus on improving their communities.

Its efforts like McRae-Helena that make a difference and set a precedent for others to follow.  Congrats to the great work, keep it up!!!