Last fall, the community group Main Street Ottumwa partnered with the Better Block Foundation and many others to temporarily transform a city block into a vibrant space for eating, playing, and shopping. The creative placemaking project was funded in part by a community grant from the College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network.
The University of Iowa College of Public Health and its Business Leadership Network announced six award recipients through the third year of the Community Grant Project. The organizations will receive cash grant awards of up to $3,000.
The recipients of the third round of funding are: Cass County Memorial Hospital, Atlantic; Fayette County Substance Abuse Coalition, Fayette; Lee County Health Department, Fort Madison; Living Proof Exhibit, Davenport; Muscatine Center for Social Action, Muscatine; and Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging, Waterloo. (The projects are described in more detail below.)
The grant program funds, in conjunction with an equal cash or in-kind match from another organization or business, will be used for public health-related initiatives and projects in the recipient communities.
“We are excited to support these locally initiated projects to improve community health,” says Edith Parker, professor and head of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the UI College of Public Health. “The grant program is one way the college is partnering with communities and business leaders across the state to increase the well-being of Iowans.”
The College of Public Health provided the grants as part of its Business Leadership Network (BLN) initiative. Some of the funds for the grant program are provided by the UI Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. The BLN, established in 2011, fosters ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships between the College of Public Health and small and medium-sized businesses and communities in Iowa. Through these relationships, the college engages and collaborates with communities in development of cutting-edge, high impact public health research, enhances educational programs with service learning opportunities within businesses, and promotes a culture of health throughout communities.
The third round of grant funding was available to nonprofit organizations and local government entities across Iowa. Learn more details about the grant program, as well as additional information about the Business Leadership Network.
Community Grant Award Projects
- Cass County Memorial Hospital, Atlantic
The Walk Cass County! project aims to expand and encourage walking as a way to connect families and friends while gaining health benefits. Through their Healthy Cass County division, they will work to provide walking maps with routes of varying lengths in each of the eight cities in the county to help residents become more active.
- Fayette County Substance Abuse Coalition, Fayette
The Teen Maze: A Reality Check for Youth project is an experiential learning activity which provides youth in Fayette County the opportunity to see the consequences of their choices in a safe and guided learning environment. This project addresses substance use and mental health issues, healthy relationships, safety, and nutrition. Teen Maze aims to aid youth in understanding how today’s choices can affect their future goals.
- Lee County Health Department, Fort Madison
Lee County’s Community Garden and Senior Produce Box project will support the Live Healthy Lee County Coalition to develop and implement a community garden project. Produce grown from the garden will be donated to a senior community produce box project in rural areas where access to healthy foods is limited for older residents.
- Living Proof Exhibit, Davenport
The Using Art to Improve the Quality of Life of Quad Citizens Touched by Cancer project will offer 18 art sessions to people touched by cancer, with four bilingual programs offered in Muscatine and the remainder in Scott and Rock Island counties. Participants create something beautiful while having the opportunity to talk to and connect with others impacted by cancer. The sessions help participants fulfill a need for hope, support, or healing.
- Muscatine Center for Social Action, Muscatine
The Rapid Rehousing Food Stability Program introduces or reinforces and supports healthy nutritional behaviors and enables better food choices for families living in poverty. Participating families receive a healthy food delivery on the last week of their SNAP calendar month, a week they typically experience a food shortage. The food stability program provides each family with a crock pot, healthy snacks, food for one crock pot meal, and recipes made with affordable ingredients.
- Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging, Waterloo
The Senior Freezer Meal Prep and Cooking project aims to decrease meals that offer poor nutritional quality and help increase consumption of protein, vegetables, and high quality grains. Seniors in Allamakee, Black Hawk, Jackson, and Marshall Counties will be provided with a new slow cooker, education on food safety, and already prepared meal kits for storage in a freezer. Meal prep will be done in a group setting to create a social event and help combat loneliness and social isolation.
The Business Leadership Network collaborates with Iowa’s smaller communities to address health needs.
At one community forum hosted by the Business Leadership Network, an industry leader commented that it was not uncommon for as many as 15 percent of his employees to be sick on any given day. From his individual perspective, the business owner had no way to know if this was part of a trend rep-resenting a community-wide health concern. He didn’t know if other business or the local schools were experiencing similar absences, for instance. And without knowing the cause of the higher numbers, how could he hope to fix the situation?
Finding and addressing the roots of community health issues is a central goal of the Business Leadership Network (BLN). Founded in 2011 through the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy, the BLN and the grants program it oversees is intended to foster collaboration in Iowa’s smaller communities to tackle areas of identified community health need.
Gathering Community Input
A key to the program, says Tara McKee, coordinator of the BLN, are community forums that foster conversation and help leaders discern patterns and needs.
“We start with a planning group,” says McKee of the process that goes into organizing a forum, “including the chamber of commerce and other business owners, the schools and the nearest community college, United Way, bankers, hospital administrators, and local public health officials. We ask them about the most immediate public health needs in the community, and from there, we narrow to three or four topics.” To date, topics of interest have included food insecurity, diabetes, and dental care.
During the forums, community experts present on the chosen topics, while UI College of Public Health faculty and staff provide relevant research and examples of successes from other communities. Beyond this collaborative sharing of knowledge, McKee says the forums are vital networking opportunities at which local leaders find others with common concerns. That business owner with the high absentee rate, for instance, could compare notes with a county public health official, or connect with a UI faculty member who studies absenteeism.
Partnering for Success
The grant program, which is in its second year, adds another layer. Not only do the BLN Community Grants provide financial support, but the program also requires partnership in order to qualify for funding.
Athletics for Education and Success in Fort Dodge has been awarded funding in both cycles of the BLN grant. Charles Clayton, CEO of the nonprofit that was founded in 2004 to provide more after-school athletic, mentoring, and educational opportunities to young people, says the grant has been helpful in gaining more partners. “People are more likely to jump on board as a result of our work with the University of Iowa,” he says. New partners include the Fort Dodge Police, who are teaching an exercise class, and coaches from the local public schools, who are volunteering their time as referees.
After receiving the BLN grant last year, the nonprofit was able to expand weekend activities for kids. Hearing from many of the participants’ parents that they wished they had more access to fitness and athletic opportunities, Clayton and his team applied for the second year of the BLN grants and is now offering weekend family sports activities, such as dodgeball and volleyball, as well as fitness classes aimed particularly at single mothers.
Making the Most of Meals
In southeastern Iowa, the United Way of Wapello County is using its BLN grant award to extend a burgeoning program intended to help families learn easy, healthy cooking skills based on available and affordable food items. Via the grant, 25 families monthly are receiving free Crock-Pots. During a monthly class led by a registered dietician from the local Hy-Vee grocery store, participants make three meals, which they can take with them, and receive recipes for their slow cookers.
While many families rely on the local food pantry, they tend to gravitate toward easy foods, such as frozen pizzas and pasta. The Crock-Pot program will help them take raw ingredients, including fresh vegetables, dried legumes, and various meats, and create healthy meals that will extend the food and also provide greater nutrition. The recipes are specially designed to be easily edited for changing ingredients. A turkey chili, for example, can be made entirely vegetarian to reflect the availability of beans at the food pantry, or venison can be substituted during hunting season.
“We are hoping to challenge the assumption that everyone in our community is fed,” says Blaire Siems, director of the United Way of Wapello County and point person for the grant. She adds that, “Twenty-five percent of the children in Wapello County are hungry, so there’s a pretty good chance the parents are hungry, too.”
The cooking classes and the families they serve are but one thread in the complex tapestry of a community’s health, but the BLN grants are built on the belief that strengthening such threads is instrumental in supporting the health of the entire community.
This story originally appeared in the spring 2017 issue of InSight.
Watch a video from United Way of Wapello County that highlights the Crock-Pot cooking classes that were partially funded by the Business Leadership Network’s community grant program. The segment starts at the 3:43 mark.