West Marion Inc.
- Program Representative Interviewed: Paula Swepson, Executive Director
- Location: McDowell County, NC
Program Overview: West Marion Inc. is a Black-led nonprofit working to create brave spaces
for community members to share their stories, voice ideas, and build collective power to advance real and
lasting changes related to food insecurity, childcare, mental health, affordable housing, youth engagement,
immigrant justice, economic development, and health equity.
This work has resulted in new partnerships between grassroots and institutional leaders to advance health equity, a multi-racial grassroots movement across structurally excluded rural communities, policy and systems change in housing and transportation, and the re-distribution of resources to programs that strengthen the health and wellbeing of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) communities.
Core strategies of this work include:
- Facilitate monthly community forums to build collective power across structurally excluded communities.
- Implement community engagement strategies to mobilize grassroots leaders to action.
- Foster grassroots and institutional partnerships to advance policy and systems change.
- Mentor new leaders and support grassroots leadership development.
- Build trust and relationships across people with diverse lived experiences.
The organization brings visibility to the voices and untold stories of rural Black communities. To date, they have hosted over 150 community forums, bringing together community members to discuss issues like housing, immigration, racial equity, and community policing. Notably, they organized community members to create a mural to honor the history of civil rights activism in the town of Old Fort.
The organization has received grants from Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, BlueCross and BlueShield of North Carolina Foundation, and Dogwood Health Trust to create community centered solutions to address childhood obesity, advance health equity for BIPOC communities, and advocate for policies that result in resilient and thriving rural communities.
West Marion Inc. emphasizes authentic, intentional, and equitable approaches to community building. In 2020, they partnered with Equitable Community Strategies to co-author the book, Shift Happens in Community: A Toolkit to Build Power and Ignite Change. This is a how-to guide for engaging directly impacted community members to give voice to issues and create community centered solutions.
Read about one of the programs that funded West Marion Inc., Healthy Places NC, in the Rural Health Models and Innovations section.
Strategies represented by this program:
- Assessing the Historical and Policy Context when Addressing Health Equity
- Building Community Capacity to Shape Outcomes of Health Equity Work
- Creating a Shared Vision and Definition for Health Equity
- Engaging Community Members Affected by Health Inequities
- Fostering Multi-Sector Collaboration to Advance Health Equity
- Educating and Training Staff on the Principles of Health Equity