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.
The College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network recently announced seven award recipients through the second year of its Community Grant Program. Read more about the projects, which include increasing awareness of mental health issues, providing fitness equipment for seniors, reducing food insecurity, and more.
The Business Leadership Network engages with Iowa communities to facilitate discussion and collaboration on public health projects.
Sometimes simple conversations can kick-start great ideas. Take the time Laurie LaVan, a media associate in the Fairfield Community School District in southeast Iowa, joined several other teachers in sharing concerns about students going hungry.
“The conversation turned to elementary students who come to school on Monday and say they haven’t eaten since they left school the Friday before,” LaVan says. “It became clear to us that hungry students could be found throughout the district.”
That exchange led to a community meeting, which resulted in the formation of Carry On Bags, a nonprofit organization that addresses food insecurity among preschool to grade 12 students in Jefferson County, Iowa. Each week, the program provides approximately 300 food bags filled with snacks and simple meals that allow children to “carry on” without school meals over weekends and during school breaks. The project’s partners include school personnel, a local church, grocery store, and dozens of volunteers.
The College of Public Health is working to spark more conversations that generate partnerships like these through its Business Leadership Network (BLN). The BLN reaches out to businesses and communities in Iowa to form collaborations around public health needs identified by local residents.
“The people who live and work in communities know best what their health concerns are,” says Tara McKee, BLN coordinator. “Our role is to facilitate conversations about those topics, encourage connections to address concerns, and provide education and resources whenever possible.”
Community Grants in Action
In 2015, the college’s Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy established the Business Leadership Network Community Grant Project. The grants of up to $3,000 fund collaborative projects and programs that support community health. Carry On Bags was one of five inaugural recipients of the community grants, and is using the funds for food and containers to transport the bags to schools.
The organization is interested in evaluating its impact, so McKee connected Carry On Bags board member Dee Sandquist with CPH Assistant Professor Natoshia Askelson, who has research interests in food insecurity issues.
“I’m helping them put together a quick online survey for parents to fill out. The university will host the survey and provide them with a basic summary,” explains Askelson.
The remaining first-year grants included projects focused on keeping at-risk youth active and safe by providing weekend activities (Fort Dodge), engaging youth and adults in dialogue through a shared book reading (Webster City), educating elementary school children about oral health (Creston), and establishing a worksite wellness education, recognition, and reward program (Cerro Gordo County).
The worksite wellness initiative, a partnership of the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health, Mason City Chamber of Commerce, and Mason City Blue Zones Project, has offered several “lunch and learn” sessions for local businesses. The topics have included packing healthy lunches, strength training, and ergonomics and safety. In August, Nathan Fethke, CPH associate professor of occupational and environmental health, spent a day conducting on-site ergonomic assessments at four major employers in the Mason City area.
“He visited with management and employees to reinforce all the things they were doing right, and to offer suggestions for areas of improvement,” says Kelli Huinker, health promotion manager for Cerro Gordo County Public Health. “Having access to experts from the University of Iowa has been great.”
The major component of the grant, says Huinker, has been the creation of a Worksite Wellness Awards Program that “recognizes local organizations that go above and beyond to support their employee’s well-being.” The first annual awards were announced in October.
“We want to recognize employers that are already investing in wellness initiatives, and encourage other businesses to get involved in worksite wellness programs,” says Huinker. “Our goal is to make these programs sustainable.”
On the Road
The BLN is also taking College of Public Health faculty and students on the road to engage in public health-related conversations. As of November 2016, the BLN has hosted 15 community forums around the state with business owners, economic development leaders, public health officials, health care providers, local elected officials, agency and organization representatives, and the general public. Topics have included agricultural health and safety, cyberbullying, health care reform, women’s health, and substance use.
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld visited Mason City in November as part of a Community Forum, which focused on workplace health and safety, mental health, obesity, and more.
(Watch a video about the Mason City visit.)
The BLN will announce the second round of community grant recipients in December 2016. Additional support from the UI Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is funding the second grant cycle. Several more community forums are being planned for the spring.
“The BLN is a great way to learn about what’s happening in communities around the state, and to explore new areas where the college might partner on initiatives,” says McKee.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of InSight.
The University of Iowa College of Public Health and its Business Leadership Network announced seven award recipients through the second year of the Community Grant Program. The organizations received cash grant awards of $3,000.
The recipients of the second round of funding are: Athletics for Education and Success, Fort Dodge; Carry on Bags, Fairfield; Fort Dodge Senior High School, Fort Dodge; Main Street Ottumwa, Ottumwa; Rathbun Lake Area YMCA, Centerville; United Way of Wapello County, Ottumwa; and Van Buren County Hospital – Healthy Villages, Keosauqua. (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’re excited to support these locally initiated projects to improve community health,” says Sue Curry, dean of the 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 second round of grant funding was available to nonprofit organizations and local government entities within the Business Leadership Network regions in north central, west central, and south central Iowa. Details about the grant program, as well as additional information about the Business Leadership Network, is available at: http://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/bln.
Community Grant Award Projects
- Fort Dodge Senior High School, Fort Dodge
Project: High school students will work to bring awareness to mental health issues and advance the well-being of youth through theatrical performances at K-12 schools, civic organizations, and conferences. Topics will include substance abuse and suicide prevention, anti-bullying, and diversity acceptance.
- United Way of Wapello County, Ottumwa
Project: To reduce diabetes and obesity by making healthy eating easier for families living in poverty. Free cooking classes, a free crockpot, and healthy recipes utilizing food items families receive from local food pantries and community gardens will be provided.
- Rathbun Lake Area YMCA, Centerville
Project: To sustain the health of seniors who have completed physical therapy in order to continue their employment, live independently, and stay engaged in their community. New fitness equipment will provide safe low-impact workouts.
- Athletics for Education and Success, Fort Dodge
Project: To provide low-income, at-risk, and underserved adults and families safe and affordable fitness and social activities to help fight obesity, promote healthy choices, and improve quality of life.
- Carry on Bags, Fairfield
Project: To determine the most nutritional and effective food items for their program that provides free supplemental meals for food-insecure children outside of school hours.
- Main Street Ottumwa, Ottumwa
Project: To build creative placemaking capacity; improve community livability; inspire collaboration between arts, public health, transportation, and economic development; and develop a model for quick, cost-effective creative placemaking.
- Van Buren County Hospital – Healthy Villages, Keosauqua
Project: To provide health and wellness education to community members through adding instructional signage to new exercise stations along the newly built Riverfront Trail. Signs will also include educational tips such as how to determine a target heart rate.
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, along with staff and faculty from the UI College of Public Health, recently visited Mason City in north central Iowa. The visit was part of a series of community forums organized by the College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network (BLN).
Formed in 2011, the BLN reaches out to small and medium-sized businesses in Iowa communities to form collaborations around public health needs identified by local residents. To date, the BLN has hosted 15 community forums throughout the state, bringing together business owners, economic development leaders, public health officials, health care providers, local elected officials, agency and organization representatives, and university personnel to talk about local health issues.
“Our role is to facilitate conversations about these topics, encourage connections to address concerns, and provide education and resources whenever possible,” says Tara McKee, BLN coordinator.
The Nov. 4 Mason City forum focused on workplace health and safety, mental health, obesity, smoking cessation, and employer-employee relations. Past forum topics have included agricultural health and safety, cyber-bullying, health care reform, women’s health, and substance use.
“We do these forums with great anticipation and excitement that we’re going to bring people together in a community who might not actually be in a room together on a regular basis, and that they’re going to learn from each other as much as from us,” adds Sue Curry, dean of the College of Public Health.
Learn more about the Business Leadership Network community forums and community grant project at www.public-health.uiowa.edu/bln.
The UI College of Public Health’s Business Leadership Network held a community forum in Mason City on Nov. 4. Faculty and staff from the College of Public Health and UI President Bruce Harreld met with community leaders in health care, business, government, and education to discuss health topics.
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