At its core, public health is about working together to create a healthier world. Each fall semester, our students have the opportunity get out of the classroom and put that ethos to work by volunteering with community organizations for a day of service.
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.
Invest Health: Developing Strategies for a Healthier Iowa City
Monday, April 3
12:30 -1:30 p.m.
Natalie Debernardi, MPH Candidate
Amanda Kahl, MPH Candidate
Vickie Miene, Deputy Director of IIPRHP
Tracy Hightshoe, City of Iowa City
Invest Health is a new initiative, funded by the RWJF and Reinvestment Fund, developed in 2016 that brings together diverse leaders from mid-sized cities across the nation to develop strategies that will leverage private and public investments designed to improve neighborhoods that are facing the biggest barriers to health equity.
The Iowa City team is focusing efforts on developing a comprehensive plan to address asthma and mental health challenges in low-income neighborhoods. The Iowa City project includes forming a broad stakeholder group with members from the health, housing, public health, banking, education, mental health, and private sectors. The project is tasked with developing a comprehensive plan including a pipeline of projects and potential funders to improve housing and health in three specific Iowa City neighborhoods. This seminar will report progress made to date on this project and next steps.
CPH alumnus Jake Kundert of Solon, Iowa , has been hired by Iowa Valley RC&D as their new Local Foods Associate.
Together with Food System Director Jason Grimm, Kundert will work at a local and regional level to advance the Iowa Valley RC&D’s Regional Food System Initiative. Kundert will be leading the expansion of Iowa Kitchen Connect (a project that matches food entrepreneurs to kitchen space first launched in Iowa City) to four Iowa communities including Des Moines and Dubuque. He will also be supporting the Linn County Food Systems Council, assisting with production for the Grow: Johnson County initiative, and contributing to the Lettuce Grow Markets Toolkit for Iowa’s farmers market managers.
Kundert has a Masters in Public Health from the University of Iowa and brings expertise in community engagement, marketing, research, and small-scale vegetable farming on both the Iowa landscape and abroad.
Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit serving a six-county region in East Central Iowa (Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Linn, Poweshiek, Tama Counties and the Meskwaki Nation). The RC&D helps strengthen the area food system, assists local communities to grow their economies, fosters protection and enhancement
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 CPH Student Association is co-sponsoring a food drive December 5-16 to benefit the Johnson County Crisis Center Food Bank. The College of Public Health is holding a friendly competition with the Public Policy Center, College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, Obermann Center, Army ROTC, and Air Force ROTC to see which unit can donate the most food!
Drop off your donation in the bins located around the main stairway in CPHB. On Dec. 16, the donations will be tallied and the winning department within the college will be determined.
View a list the the Food Bank’s Top 10 Needed Items.
On December 18, the 2nd Annual Last Dash Food Bank Fundraiser will take place. Organizers will announce how many pounds of collections each participating group collected for the Food Bank.
Place: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St
Time: Doors open 3:00 p.m., music from 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Entertainment: Iowa bluesman Kevin BF Burt and IC rockabilly and blues band HomeBrewed.
Admission: 3 non-perishable food items or minimum donation of $5
Raffle items available during the show (donation of items for the raffle are welcome).