HEALTHIER TOGETHER is the only community-based movement that seeks to transform St. Clair County and the metro east into one of the top 25% of healthiest counties in Illinois by the year 2025. The team consists of two part-time staff members, 45 organizations, and more than 85 volunteers working hard to make a collective impact and improve St. Clair County and its surrounding communities. This group's focus targets critical areas based on the most recent county health rankings. These focus areas include chronic disease, community safety, education, maternal and child health, mental health, and substance use disorders.
Our volunteers are passionate about improving the overall health of the community and stem from numerous organizations that fit within the six work group focus areas. HEALTHIER TOGETHER supports these groups' causes through funding, volunteer hours, coordination, and so much more in hopes of making a collective impact across the county. Over the last year, our work groups have hit the ground running within St. Clair County and the Metro East Illinois foot print educating members of the community, supplying items of need, campaigning, training, and addressing topics of health, safety, and food access. The purpose of this article is to highlight the impact these groups have made over HEALTHIER TOGETHER's pilot year.
HEALTHIER TOGETHER's Executive Director, Mark Peters, and McKendree University Health & Wellness students educating families on health and nutrition at Belle Valley School's Family Fitness Night.
"Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg
From left to right: Laquitsha Bejoile-Hayes of the University of Illinois Extension and Staff from the Belleville Farmer's Market - Dan (manager), Kathy, and Tim.
Community Impact Forum held in Washington Park by Pastors Charles Rogers and Anthony Pettiford of the Community Safety workgroup.
Church-School partnership breakfast hosted by members of the Education work group.
The Chronic Disease work group partnered with St. Elizabeth's Hospital and the St. Clair County Health Department to supply $10 vouchers for families within the Franklin School district and Belleville area footprint. These vouchers were redeemable at the local Farmer's Market and gave the families $10 credit for fresh produce. The partnership was revised at the onset of the COVID-19 social distancing order and extended for further funding to help families get through a time where so much was unknown. Members of this team also partnered with organizations like Project Compassion, NFP, the St. Louis Food Bank, the Belleville YMCA, and local churches to hold Mobile Food Markets that helped supply families with food in a no questions asked manor. These mobile markets were done once a month and gave away well over 20,000 pounds of food to the community.
The Community Safety work group also partnered with the St. Louis Food Bank and local churches to help supply food to families within the Washington Park footprint, an area that suffers as a food desert. Their co-chairs, along with members from the surrounding area churches volunteered to help distribute food to families in need. Along with food distribution, they also came together to hold a community impact forum within that same footprint to help identify current needs and build a future plan of action. They brought topics identified by community members to the table to structure their plan and are now working to build some connections and partnerships to form strong community neighborhood associations. The hope is that these associations will provide sustainable backbone support to addressing many of the resident needs.
The Education work group helped host a summer camp in the summer of 2019 along with several local partnering agencies. Together they created a health literacy curriculum that reached 365 students and gave them a total of 96 hours of youth and health literacy programming. As part of the curriculum, the Belleville WIC clinic of Illinois extension provided 300 pounds of produce along with 10 hours of direct youth education. In conjunction, the St. Louis Food Bank provided 645 weekend meal boxes containing a total of 15,480 meals to the families who's kids were in attendance. Though the current pandemic put this years camp and curriculum on hold, this group continues to brainstorm ways to provide relief to families. At present, this group is working on a project to help the families, children, and schools who are currently distance learning due to the current climate.
Our Maternal and Child Health work group consists of members of the Healthy Start Consortium who focus on making sure babies make it to their 366th day while also reducing the risk of sleep related infant deaths, along with addressing other challenges faced by new parents. Their ABC's of Safe Sleep Campaign supplied education, baby books, and onesies to all mother's who gave birth at St. Clair County Hospitals during the month of September 2019. They've also worked hard at educating new parents on infant safe sleep awareness, aided in the creation and sustainment of a diaper bank, held community baby showers, and taught parenting, breastfeeding, and infant care classes. This group continues to stay committed to helping families get the care and education they need to ensure a healthy start for the newborns.
The Mental Health work group held a number of events during the 2019 year that include suicide prevention training, candle light vigils, and Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training to the community all free of charge. Alongside their training events, they've also worked on suicide prevention campaigns, informational pamphlets, and resource packets for families who have lost someone as a result of suicide.
Last, but certainly not least, the Substance Use Disorder work group has been working tirelessly at campaigning against youth substance use, educating on marijuana legalization, and the continued fight against the opioid crisis within St. Clair County and the metro east. This group has dedicated countless hours toward training local businesses, police agencies, and members of the community on what do to during an opioid overdose and helps to supply Narcan to those who need it. They also work hard to educate parents and the youth population on vaping, substance use, and where to get help.
Paula Brody and Cynthia Price who co-chair the Maternal & Child Health workgroup teaching the ABC's of Safe Sleep
Dr. Robert Farmer spreading the word about HEALTHIER TOGETHER at the Best Practices for Suicide Prevention training at Memorial Hospital.
While HEALTHIER TOGETHER's pilot year has proven to be fruitful, the hope is to build on this foundation in the years to come. We are looking to make a positive change within St. Clair County and our metro east communities by addressing the needs identified within our county health rankings. Though we still have a long way to go, the work groups have blazed a trail throughout the county and still have so much more to give. Here's to a healthier year together making a positive, collective impact.
St. Clair County Assistant State's Attorneys Chris Allen and Dan Lewis educating the community on what marijuana legalization in Illiois means.
Members of the Interfaith Food Pantry who helped distribute vouchers from the Chronic Disease workgroups Food Voucher Program.
Belleville Farmer's Market who participate in the Food Voucher Program.
Project Compassion, NFP, Downtown Belleville YMCA, and Living the Word Church partnering with HEALTHIER TOGETHER and students from surrounding schools to run a series of mobile food markets.