Healthy Places NC: Cultivating Community Health and Wellness

Launched by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in 2012, Healthy Places NC is investing up to $100 million to improve the health of residents in 10 to 15 of the state’s rural, financially disadvantaged counties, many of which are home to high rates of obesity, diabetes and other serious health conditions. Healthy Places differs from traditional philanthropy in that grant-making is driven by community concerns, as well as the Trust’s assessment of the prospect for sustainable, long-term change. Funded projects originate from the community because local leaders know best what they and their neighbors need to lead healthier lives.

To date, the Trust has invested $10 million in the five counties where Healthy Places is up and running—Halifax, Beaufort, McDowell, Rockingham and Burke. The Trust plans to stay involved in each of these counties for up to 10 years. Trust staff works with local leaders to learn what yields results and what does not, and that takes time.

“The power of Healthy Places North Carolina is that we are responding precisely to the needs of a specific community, listening to the people, cooperating with local change-makers, and then working with them to find ways to improve the health and overall quality of life,” said Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

County by County, Family by Family

In Halifax County, Healthy Places supported the launch of the Community Health Center, the state’s first co-located federally funded clinic at a hospital, in partnership with Rural Health Group and Access East. At the end of three years, the project expects that 3,000 new patients will visit a primary care doctor at the Center and Halifax Regional will see a drop in inappropriate emergency room visits by at least 6,000 patient visits.

In nearby Rockingham County, Healthy Places helped introduce the Nurse-Family Partnership, an evidence-based community health program which pairs nurses with low-income pregnant women for up to two years. Forty families are currently being served by the partnership. Nurse-Family Partnership has improved the health, education and economic self-sufficiency of thousands of participating families across in the country, in both the long and short term.

In McDowell County, the YMCA of Western North Carolina has benefited from Healthy Places investments in support of its proven diabetes prevention program, which has served 196 adults to date and shown impressive results, including an average weight loss of 10.9 percent and a 90 percent retention rate. Healthy Places investments will help the program serve an additional 360 adults at risk of diabetes, including those currently on the waiting list.

In Beaufort County, Healthy Places investments supported the construction of an interactive walking trail at Beaufort County Community College. The mile-long walking trail will include fitness stations, as well as places to rest, and will be open to the public. Multiple community organizations including the Mid-East Commission Area Agency on Aging, the Beaufort County Developmental Center, Life Quest, Inc., and others worked to make the trail a reality and plan to promote its use by residents of all ages and abilities.

In Halifax, Rockingham, McDowell and Beaufort counties, the Trust has invested $4.2 million to build and/or improve 75 play areas and recreational facilities. Of those facilities, 47 are located at elementary and middle schools in high poverty areas. Other facilities are located in county parks, community colleges, social service agencies and child care centers, among others. The Trust has also partnered with the national nonprofit KaBOOM! to build eight new playgrounds, two in each of these rural counties. Prior to Healthy Places investments, children in these communities had limited opportunities to safely play and exercise.

Taken alone, Healthy Places investments are already benefiting communities and improving overall quality of life in five counties. But as part of a larger effort to promote health and wellness in North Carolina, Healthy Places is building the capacity of communities to identify and address their most pressing health challenges.

Nurturing Sustainable Change

Healthy Places investments are not a one-shot solution. The Trust is working to bolster and sustain its investments through a Regional Support Center. The Center is managed by the NC Foundation for Advanced Health Programs and funded by a grant from the Trust. The Center supports community-based efforts, leadership, vision and sustainability of Healthy Places NC rural communities in central and eastern North Carolina through technical assistance, coaching, resource management and support of community initiatives.

“To make real change in these communities, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust understands local leaders need ongoing support and guidance. The plan for Healthy Places is to identify organizations with complementary missions that are ready and willing to support its efforts after the Trust has helped programs get off the ground,” said Allen Smart, vice president of programs for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

In addition to supporting the implementation of new programs and services to improve health and health care, the Trust is growing the capacity of local leaders and organizations to develop and carry out effective programs. To that end, the Trust has sent more than 75 community residents to participate in leadership training through the Center for Creative Leadership. Based in Greensboro, NC, the Center is a top-ranked, global provider of executive education that develops better leaders through its exclusive focus on leadership education and research. The Trust has partnered with the Center for Creative Leadership to create the Healthy Places NC Leadership Program, which is designed to enhance local leaders’ capacity to improve their community’s health through innovative problem solving and collaboration.

Building Momentum

Moving forward, the Trust is excited about the growth of Healthy Places in established communities, as well as introducing the effort in four to five new counties across North Carolina in 2015. In each county, successful programs are leading to bigger, bolder efforts, as well as more thoughtful consideration of how to improve the long-term quality of life of residents. Access to playgrounds and recreational facilities in one county may lead to a community embracing child obesity prevention programs. Support for healthy eating in another community may incentivize local leaders to dig down and identify the social determinants of health and wellness.

In Rockingham County, for example, the Trust has seen the evolution of a coherent network of primary health care services for low-income families that didn’t exist before. Healthy Places is helping the Trust to grow its own knowledge base, as well. The Trust is learning about the landscape of how people access fundamental health care services and using that information to continue to refine and improve the effort.

Community Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has identified the effort as a national model.

“With Healthy Places, the Trust is supporting communities to develop new skills. For the first time people from the health sector, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, county and city government, schools and churches are coming together to figure out how to do this work. From Community Health Rankings and Roadmaps’ perspective, it’s been exciting to see what can happen when you’ve got those kind of local resources,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, co-director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

Healthy Places continues to grow. Program officers are already working in soon-to-be-launched counties, doing the yeoman’s work of creating networks of local leaders and change-makers and capable organizations on the ground, and identifying the pressing needs of these counties.

Growing the Kate B. Reynolds’ Legacy

Healthy Places NC is growing Kate B. Reynolds’ legacy of helping underserved communities access the tools and resources necessary to help families and individuals lead healthier lives. As a young woman, Mrs. Reynolds played an active role in addressing issues that affect quality of life for all—especially for those whose financial resources are not adequate for their needs. From her home in Forsyth County, Mrs. Reynolds was a leader in establishing and maintaining community hospitals to serve all residents, advocating for better wages and working conditions for factory workers, and creating day care centers for the children of working mothers. Healthy Places is a perfect marriage of Mrs. Reynolds’ legacy with the changing world of philanthropy, helping communities find new and innovative ways to improve the health and wellness of some of North Carolina’s neediest families and individuals while growing the capacity of local leaders to tackle such challenges on their own in the years to come.