KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Forging partnerships is a key to building successful healthy-lifestyle programs, according to a panel of nonprofit practitioners that provided advice to their peers.
“Part of implementing a strategy is understanding what your capacity is and also understanding where you need help,” said Jerry Jones, a health organizer for Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO), a faith-based organization that works with congregations throughout the Kansas City area.
The other panelists were Toniann Richard, executive director of the Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri in Lafayette County and Heidi Holliday, executive director of the Rosedale Development Association in Kansas City, Kan.
They addressed nearly 150 government and nonprofit officials during a Thursday morning forum held at the Saint Paul School of Theology, 5123 E. Truman Road.
Put on by the Health Forward Foundation, the forum also provided information about the foundation’s upcoming $2.4 million Healthy Lifestyles funding round. Each of the three organizations represented by the panelists has received Healthy Lifestyles grants from the foundation.
The panelists said organizations must be open-minded and creative when building a team.
“We work with everyone that will work with us,” Holliday said.
For instance, she said Rosedale has partnered with different groups through its Healthy Kids Initiative:
A “visual advocacy” class at the Kansas City Art Institute helped with branding for the association’s I Need a Sidewalk campaign. Art students created a logo and designed a billboard at Interstate 35 and Lamar Avenue.
A neighborhood sheet metal worker, who used to work at a bike shop, built creative bike racks that now sit at sites around the community. At about $300 apiece, Holliday said, they were about a third of the cost of similar commercial bike racks.
Strasser Hardware contributed leftover vegetable bedding plants. The association used them in community gardens.
CCO partners work with several organizations, including the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, to secure healthy food options in low-income neighborhoods, Jones said. The agency also works with the Kansas City Health Department on violence prevention.
Jones suggested an approach that his organization uses with its member congregations.
The organizing committees first list all the resources already at their disposal. And then, he said, “We try to identify those (organizations) that may have the resources that we need in order to bring the kind of change we want.”
In Lafayette County, Richard said the collaboration’s “Live Healthy, Live Well” program focuses on a number of priorities, including increasing access to healthy food and tobacco prevention efforts with students.
A program, Students With a Goal, organized by the county health department promotes tobacco-free living among high schoolers.
Richard said collaboration among groups is important, but she said there are certain important tasks that organizations can do on their own.
A strong strategic plan for the organization helps, she said. But, it also has to be flexible enough to handle course corrections.
“You are not going to have the answers the first time,” Richard said.
The plan does not have to be weighty, she said. Her organization boiled down a 35-page document to one page that included illustrations to make points.
That last point made an impression on audience member Lisa Ousley of Kansas City, Mo., director of the western regional office of the Society of St. Andrew, which collects produce that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to needy individuals.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Ousley said.
Carri Ellis, who has started a nonprofit that focuses on improving the health of residents in the Hickman Mills area of south Kansas City, said it was eye opening for her to hear the panelists talk about collaborating with artists and businesses.
According to the request for proposal, applications for the Health Care Foundation’s 2013 Healthy Lifestyles program are due by noon Feb. 20. The foundation expects to announce award winners on June 12.