Perspectives on building healthy communities

National Policy Implications Panel

 (l to r) Dr. Garth Graham, president, Aetna Foundation; Wendy Ellis, project director, Building Community Resilience Collaborative, GWU; Stuart M. Butler, The Brookings Institution

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After decades of working at the national level on health and mental policy in Washington, DC, I find myself looking for ways to get involved locally—the closer to home the better, and the more tangible the work, the more gratifying. There has never been a better time to act locally, not just because of the polarized national scene, but because opportunities abound to really make a difference at the local level.

With this budding interest local involvement taking shape, I was eager see what lessons I could learn from a May 9th event titled “New directions for communities: How they can boost neighborhood health,” sponsored by the venerable organization The Brookings Institution, best known for leadership at the national and global levels.

Brookings has developed a series titled “Building Healthy Neighborhoods” that is exploring “the crucial elements to building a culture of health, education, and economic mobility in low-income communities.” Since my neighborhood has people of all income levels and has undergone rapid gentrification especially in the last decade, its diversity is a source of its vitality but also presents challenges in creating community. A number of the reports in the series provide ideas and strategies for addressing problems at the neighborhood level.

What I didn’t expect to hear at the Brookings meeting was the degree of interest by several of the presenters in the role that “villages” could play in improving community health. Villages are springing up around the country to help people “age in place” by addressing the multiple needs of seniors. Village members are both lending and receiving help.

Members of Mt. Pleasant Village

Volunteers in the Mt. Pleasant Village meet to discuss the village’s participation in a study on social inclusion among its members. Pictured here (l to r) are Bonnie Cain, Kelly Callahan, Katie Tyler, Sharon Hart

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