The wait is finally over! The 10 New Jersey Health Initiatives 2015 Building a Culture of Health—Communities Moving to Action grantees have completed their blueprints. For the past several months our grantee coalitions have been working to develop blueprints for action to build healthier communities in New Jersey. We are delighted to report that the blueprints were worth the wait.
You can view the blueprints on each grantee’s project page here on our website and, as you will notice, they are anything but “cookie cutter.” They vary in length (a few pages to the length of a short dissertation), content, and timeline (e.g., Salem County’s blueprint is a 10-year action plan). The diversity of blueprints is not surprising given we provided the grantees with basic content guidelines, but no specific template to follow. Although they had resources such as—Toni Lewis, the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Action Center community for NJ, informational webinars, and examples from national initiatives —we intentionally left it to our grantees to decide the format, scope, and content of their blueprints, to ensure the blueprints captured the essence of each community. Building a Culture of Health means “working together differently” which, while nerve-wracking for our grantees (“how many pages?”, “do we need to include a logic model?”, and so on), yielded fantastic results. Our coalitions know their communities best and each community developed a blueprint for action that reflects the resources, opportunities, challenges, and aspirations of their community.
While the blueprints were not cookie cutter, there were some common themes such as making health a shared value. From Salem to Elizabeth, all of our coalitions sought to engage more voices in their communities. The coalitions already include schools, universities, municipal government, philanthropic partners, and faith-based organizations and the blueprints include action steps to engage more voices: older adults and youth, immigrant populations, public safety, and others. Here are some other common themes:
Building social trust. Making health a shared value requires social trust and the blueprints emphasized the importance of building social trust in building healthier communities. The coalitions took different paths toward building social trust in their community social networks. For example, in Atlantic City and Jersey City, the coalitions proposed using their grant dollars to award “mini-grants” to partner organizations in their communities. Using financial capital to build social capital is one of the many smart and innovative blueprint actions our grantees are implementing.
Connecting resources and adding value. In addition to sharing resources to build trust, all of our grantee coalitions took an asset-based community development approach. The coalitions understand that sustainable improvements require the leveraging and connecting of existing assets in their communities. The Morristown United Coalition describes this action in their blueprint: “increase organizational connectedness and sharing of resources while reducing ineffective redundancy of services and duplication of efforts.” From Camden to Trenton to Morristown, our coalitions recognize the assets currently available in their communities and, in their blueprints, they seek opportunities to innovate and “add value” to these existing assets rather than create new, redundant resources.
Driving health conversations upstream. As discussed, it is clear from the blueprints that our grantee coalitions recognize building healthier communities requires the engagement of sectors and voices other than health and healthcare systems and providers. As expected, engaging new elements of the community enhances and expands the health conversation and this is reflected in the blueprints. For example, the coalition from Orange—Healthy Orange— will focus on the association between learning/education and health outcomes and in their blueprint they seek to address how factors such as public safety, limited community engagement, and housing instability are obstacles to learning and educational attainment. Addressing housing as a critical factor in the health of children and families is also a consideration included in the blueprints of the Irvington Health Coalition and Believe in a Healthy Newark coalition.
The first year for these grantees was different than what they’ve been used to under other grant-funded programs. They didn’t jump right into action, but instead took the time to look at their communities, talk to their partners, stakeholders and residents, and develop a course of action that is meant to guide them through the next three years of this initiative and beyond. And while they embark on the next steps of this work, they have also built a network amongst themselves on which they can depend to share successes, challenges and revelations. They are the pioneers for this work in New Jersey, and they will be looked upon by our next 10 grantees as well as other communities across the state and possibly the nation as examples for building a Culture of Health from the bottom up, one community at a time.