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Community Residents Are Creating Greater Destinies!
The PRCHN is the Healthy Eating, Active Living anchor for Health Improvement Cuyahoga (HIP-Cuyahoga), a consortium of more than 200 organizations that may be the largest-ever concentrated effort to enhance the health of everyone who calls Cuyahoga County home. While increasing access and opportunity for improved nutrition is an important goal for everyone in Cuyahoga County, there is a disproportionate burden among under-resourced communities, especially communities of color. Data from the Cuyahoga County Community Health Needs Assessment showed that one in two Cleveland residents live in a “food desert” area. These are neighborhoods that lack grocery stores and other retail outlets that carry fresh produce and other healthy options. The assessment also revealed that one in three adults in Cleveland is obese and therefore at risk of chronic diseases.
 
To address the prevalence of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic diseases that disproportionately affect low-income families and communities of color in the greater Cleveland area, HIP-Cuyahoga partnered with residents in several under-resourced neighborhoods to create Resident Teams. These teams of local resident volunteers took part in a Community Health Ambassador training facilitated by the PRCHN along with HIP-Cuyahoga partners Neighborhood Leadership Institute and Strategic Solutions Partners. 
 
This nine-week training sequence focused on topics such as public health, equity, social determinants of health, branding and communications, and conflict management. Participants were presented with local data that provided an important overview of health challenges in their respective neighborhoods. The teams are using their training to advance the work of HIP-Cuyahoga and to help shape their own policy agenda for community change, including the identification of local priorities important to them.enlisted the help of local residents to support strategies to both prevent and manage health issues in their neighborhoods -- from incentivizing corner stores to provide fresh produce and other healthy fare, to creating shared use agreements with schools and other existing facilities in the neighborhood to increase opportunities for physical activity.
 
What makes this program different from other efforts at building healthier communities is this local focus. Erika Hood, Community Fellow and Strategy Coordinator for REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Public Health), notes “A lot of times, with the best intentions, we try to make evidence-based programs work, but they’re not really tailored for specific neighborhoods. “Our resident teams have ownership of this particular effort. They can appreciate it more. They can make it more effective because it’s a resident-driven approach, not some top-down model.”
 
Mark McClain, a resident of Cleveland who was recruited to one of the Resident Teams, agrees that better health happens when local residents become part of the solution.“If you can take care of health issues, you can make a better community overall,” said McClain, minister of a local church and a former Cleveland prosecutor. “Our philosophy is health is the foundation of all life’s successes. If you live in a food desert, you send your kids to school with a bowl of Fruit Loops, which doesn’t help their concentration. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t learn well. If you can’t learn well, you can’t graduate, you can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, you end up on a street corner doing some illegal activity. Then you end up in the criminal justice system. At the root of all these problems is health. And it’s time we make good health a priority so we can get to these larger, more complex problems that are impacting our communities.”
 
Providing community capacity and leadership building opportunities to residents like Mark McClain offers an opportunity for them to see the larger picture, which is an important step in addressing the structures, systems, and environments that undermine good health. More importantly, many of the Community Health Ambassadors are now involved at many different levels in the REACH/HIP-C work, such as participating in HIP-Cuyahoga’s Shared Use Agreement training; training to become lay Chronic Disease Self-Management leaders in workshops conducted by PRCHN partner Fairhill Partners; sitting on HIP-C's 2nd Annual Community Day planning committee; serving as resident researchers in the community at farmers markets and corner stores; and being the voice and the face of the outreach campaign seen throughout Cleveland. 
 
On September 26, 2015, HIP-Cuyahoga hosted its first annual Community Day and the Community Health Ambassadors were actively involved in shaping the agenda, participating as speakers, and providing their input through focus groups. In addition, these passionate and committed residents shared their collective story through a video which they created and produced, and through their personal reflections of hope and opportunity.