Healthy Places NC
- Need: People living in under-resourced rural communities in North Carolina have poorer health than those living in urban areas.
- Intervention: Funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Healthy Places NC is investing $100 million over 10 years in rural North Carolina counties to improve residents' health.
- Results: As of June 2020, the Trust has invested more than $68 million in 10 Healthy Places NC counties.
Seventy years ago, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was established to improve the health and quality of life of residents in Forsyth County and across the state of North Carolina. The Trust works to ensure that residents have equitable access to quality healthcare, economic opportunities, and educational attainment.
In 2012, the Trust launched Healthy Places NC. Committed to investing $100 million in 10 rural, financially disadvantaged North Carolina counties over 10 years, this initiative is using the knowledge of local residents and leaders about what their communities need to help people live healthier lives.
In order to improve the health of the entire state, the Trust decided to focus on rural communities with great need. To date, the Trust has invited the following counties to participate in Healthy Places NC:
When the Trust begins working directly with a Healthy Places NC county, it uses the following approach in an effort to make community-wide health improvements:
- Identify the social determinants of health
- Build on community assets
- Encourage cross-sector partnership
- Invest in the leadership of rural residents
- Grow local and regional capacity
The Trust provides financial support and other resources to rural North Carolina communities to implement programs that promote healthy lifestyles and long-term change.
Program officers, who develop long-term relationships in the communities in which they serve, recognize and make connections between local leaders, residents, and resources.
The Trust offers leadership training for Healthy Places NC community residents to grow the capacity of local leaders so they learn how to develop and implement innovative programs.
The Trust funds a regional support organization called Rural Forward North Carolina. This group provides resource management, coaching, technical assistance, and ongoing support of community initiatives to Healthy Places NC communities that are further along in their work with the Trust.
To learn more about Healthy Places NC, please watch this two-minute video:
Healthy Places NC has generated excitement and collaboration in the communities in which it is investing. As of June 2020, the Trust has invested more than $68 million in 10 Healthy Places NC counties.
The Trust continues to work closely with Healthy Places NC communities to achieve the following:
- Make health improvement a shared community value
- Put systemic building blocks for good health in place
Some examples of Healthy Places NC work:
Community leaders in the predominantly Black section of West Marion hold community forums to address disparities like substandard housing and scarcity of healthy food. One project that came from these meetings was a community garden. Through grant money and technical assistance, the Trust supports community leaders in West Marion and other underserved communities to bring new voices into conversations about what their county needs to be a thriving, healthy place to live.
Read more about this work in McDowell County in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
To increase access to affordable, healthy food, Beaufort County residents created the Washington City Market, a farmers market for growers, restaurateurs, and residents and a gathering place for community organizations and "Meet the Candidates" events.
The Asbury United Methodist Church works with the school system in its community to make sure children in need have access to food during the summer. The church sets up "tarp camps" in trailer parks and provides nutritious meals for nine weeks.
The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Collaborative partners with schools, a food pantry, the public health department, and other organizations. The HEAL Collaborative became an accredited food council and is working to improve infrastructure for walking and biking.
Read more about these partners in Ensuring Access to Healthy Food in Beaufort County.
Halifax County was named a Healthy Places NC community in 2012. From the start, residents identified childhood obesity as an issue they wanted to tackle. Early on, the Trust provided technical assistance and support to revive an existing coalition focused on health improvement in the community.
Relaunched as the Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative (RVCHI) in 2013, the group created a Coordinating Council and workgroups, established the Halifax Parks & Recreation Advisory Board to implement a county master recreation plan, and began community conversations to understand residents' concerns about lack of active living options for youth.
By 2015, RVCHI had hired a coordinator to increase the group's ability to be a community resource around health improvement and youth issues. RVCHI, with support from Healthy Places NC, has encouraged the schools to play a more active role in combatting childhood obesity.
One of the results of this partnership is the inclusion of the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program, an evidence-based program that promotes health-focused school activities, healthier lunches, and increased physical activity. With support from the Trust and RVCHI, CATCH is being implemented in 15 elementary schools in Halifax County.
The statistics don't usually describe the characteristics of a community. For example, the numbers can show that a community has poor health outcomes, but they don't tell the whole story: There is often a great commitment by residents to create change.
Healthy Places NC looks different in each county. This requires a great deal of flexibility and adaptability, with each county having its own processes and challenges.
Creating and sustaining long-term excitement and motivation on selected health issues among multiple partners requires consistent and deep involvement by Trust staff and partners.
Building capacity in rural areas takes longer than the Trust anticipated. It takes a long time to help create an ecosystem of organizations with the staff, leadership, and financial stability to meaningfully contribute to health improvement in the community.
The Trust has had to adapt its policies and practices to support embedding program officers in the community. Still, turnover in program officers creates more programs with a place-based strategy because these staff members have built extensive connections in the community that cannot be easily transferred.
To help make Healthy Places NC successful, the Trust:
- Selected counties that were ready for change
- Developed regional support systems
- Focused early evaluations
- Brought in new national partners
- Redefined relationships with in-state partners
Seven years into this work, the Trust continues to learn and adapt as it works to create long-term, sustainable change in rural communities.
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
June 8, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
July 8, 2020
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2020. Healthy Places NC [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/801 [Accessed 4 December 2020]
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.