High Hopes for Leadership Academy to Influence Healthy Communities

Before we bid farewell to an eventful year dominated by the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, our Health Forward associates take a look back at significant events and projects and share their insights about the year 2013.

On day five of our year in review, Health Forward Program Officer Brenda Calvin dives into the development of the Leadership Academy for Healthy Lifestyles.

We’ve heard a lot this year about access to medical care. But it is important to remember during these conversations about improving health in the United State, that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care but from stopping a disease before it starts.

Complete streetsGood health comes from clean air and water, safe outdoor spaces for physical activity, safe worksites, healthy foods, violence-free environments and healthy homes.

Prevention should be woven into all aspects of our lives, including where and how we live, learn, work and play. And everyone has a role in creating healthier communities.

Health Forward has a long history funding activities related to healthy eating and active living (HEAL). Historically, we’ve funded programs like community gardens. However, best practices show us that individual behavior will be realized if we address community environments and policies that make the healthy choice the easy choice.

So in the past couple years we have shifted our focus to fund efforts that mobilize communities to change their environments through policy and institutional changes that increase support for healthy eating, physical activities and reducing exposure to tobacco among all persons.

While we’ve transitioned our Healthy Lifestyles funding, we’ve made sure to work closely with national organizations to learn more about best practices and to meet with grantees and provide them opportunities to learn about effective strategies in promoting policy change. Feedback we received included:

Efforts need to start where the people are
HEAL interventions can be seen as elitist
Some grassroots organizations feel left behind
Language can be a barrier
Stories are an effective way of learning and engaging
People in the community are at different levels of capacity to do this work
With that feedback in mind, Health Forward this year developed the Leadership Academy for Healthy Lifestyles. The purpose is to “create a movement” by building field leadership capacity to effect policy and community environmental change.

We are blessed in our region to have significant individual efforts, along with accomplished leaders to improve access to healthy eating and active living. Our challenge was to help them come together and think about the healthy lifestyles field as a whole and leverage their collective strengths to mobilize under-resourced communities for change.

The Academy began in May and is a year-long program. Fifteen participants were selected to represent a wide variety of sectors, including education, neighborhood and economic development, hospitals, mental health, health departments and community-based organizations.

This is an experiment of sorts for Health Forward to use an integrated approach of policy, leadership and collaboration training. But early responses and energy from our participants indicate we are right on track. I’m very excited to be part of this opportunity to help further develop champions focused on reducing exposure to tobacco, and improving healthy eating and active living, while also supporting our community partners in a way that provides practical application and has broader reach than grantmaking alone.

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006