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 2017, the Trust has invested more than $32 million in seven 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 10-12 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 two Regional Support Organizations. These support organizations provide 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.
Healthy Places NC has generated excitement and collaboration in the communities in which it is investing. As of June 2017, the Trust has invested more than $32 million in seven 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
- Achieve quantifiable progress toward improving outcomes on major health indicators
Some examples of Healthy Places NC work:
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 Trust supports technical assistance for a health coalition in McDowell County and for a collaborative of residents in an underserved section of Marion, the largest community in McDowell.
This cooperative work sparked a conversation where employers expressed an interest in reducing employee turnover and Marion residents noted the need for second-shift daycare options.
The school system offered space to address this problem, and the YMCA expressed an interest in providing programming to families in need of day care. The Trust is now funding this movement toward solving a problem identified by the community.
Read more about these efforts in the June 2017 McDowell News article McDowell County Increases Access to Childcare Services, Establishes Community Hubs in Schools and the July 2017 Build Healthy Places Network post Partnering for a Healthier WorkFORCE.
As with many rural communities, access to healthy foods is a problem in Beaufort County. To address this issue, residents are attempting to build a local foods ecosystem. To that end, the Trust supported a food system study led by local organizations along with experts at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Through its statewide partner, Resourceful Communities, the Trust helped the town of Aurora, a remote area without a grocery store, start a community garden and a farmers market.
The Trust also funds a partnership between Beaufort County Community College and a local farmer to create healthy cooking classes, teach young people of color how to grow food, plant a community garden, and build a sustainable farmers market that caters to underserved neighborhoods.
Read more about this partnership in the February 2017 Beaufort County Community College post Digging In for Better Health.
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
Six 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 10, 2018
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.