More than two years ago, leaders across America’s Cooperative Extension System (CES) and National 4-H Council (4-H) began imagining how they could expand their collaborative efforts to amplify and accelerate a culture of health across the nation. They are building upon rich agency histories of youth and adult partnerships, translational science, expert volunteer programs, and expansive research. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the engagement of 13 first wave Land-Grant Universities (LGUs), the Well Connected Communities initiative launched its first year in August 2017.
The LGUs, from a mix of rural and urban areas, have each partnered with three communities within their state to build or grow locally representative health councils, identify community needs and interests and strengthen practices for young people to work alongside adults to help create change for cultivating wellness.
The work is rooted in a series of guiding values and principles including:
- Commitment to transforming place through genuine partnership
- Focus on equity and inclusion
- An intergenerational emphasis—with hope and action
- Balancing what works (evidence) and innovation (creating new pathways)
- Learning and growing together—a results oriented movement
In December 2018, state and local teams convened to kick-off the initiative, get rooted in evidence-based practices, and begin to build a peer-learning network that will continue to grow with the initiative.
As local work advanced, several youth and adult teams also participated in the National Youth Summit on Healthy Living in February 2018. One of the activity tracts focused on supporting Well Connected Communities teams in exploring local health needs using County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, developing a draft action plan, and presenting their plans to fellow attendees.
Over the next year, communities will connect with at least 150 volunteers to mentor youth leaders, build local capacity, and ensure successful implementation of an action plan. Communities are focusing on a wide range of health issues that reflect local needs and interests ranging from the expansion of safe walking routes and trails, opioid use and misuse prevention, mental health, and other healthy lifestyle supports. For example, Utah State University with its partner community, Davis County, has prioritized mental health in response to the high rates of suicide mortality and limited support services across many of its largest counties.
Well Connected Communities is taking the long view and in the short term is focused on engaging 1,000 communities over the next 10 years! LGUs and communities in this first wave of the work are excited about the initiative because it is:
- Community driven
- Holding a broad definition of what creates and supports health
- Focusing on system’s approaches
- Committed to working with communities who are at all different stages of healthy communities work
Participating Land-Grant Universities
Over the coming months, the Well Connected Communities’ leadership and professional development teams will be hosting a series of webinars to connect with and support CES leaders, LGUs, and their communities as applications are made to join the next wave of the initiative.
Together, they will show how young people working with adults can lead the way in spurring community change with a focus on promoting health and wellness where they live with the resources they have.