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Kansans Promote Civic Engagement for Healthier Communities

From Mitchell to Barber and Kearney to Crawford, 18 Kansas communities have been selected by the Kansas Health Foundation as grantees for the Healthy Communities Initiative: Improving Health Equity (HCI:HE). This initiative is supported by a $4.7 million grant over 3 ½ years to address social and economic issues impacting health within a particular population. Leadership development, coaching, and community capacity building will be provided by seven staff members of the Community Engagement Institute (CEI).

The means of this project are in good company with the purpose of CEI: fostering meaningful, authentic engagement within and among communities to create positive change. One of the initial tasks for the local leadership teams of each awardee is hiring a Community Liaison- an individual responsible for convening, mobilizing, educating and directly engaging with community members. Impressive efforts on behalf of Reno County Health Department have been made by Community Liaison Jackson Swearer to include members of the affected population in the planning process. Through facilitation with the Principal of Lincoln Elementary School, which is located in a low-income neighborhood, Swearer successfully recruited three residents to join an initial leadership team to guide local efforts.

Pictured is Deborah Markley, PhD. Markley is Co-founder and Managing - Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship

When asked what he is learning about authentic engagement in his own community, Swearer notes, “It is challenging because the key thing about it is getting the right people who have trust established within the community connected with the leadership team and the coalition. To the coalition, this initiative means being intentional about viewing things through a health equity lens and listening to and engaging those affected by policies and strategies.”

Other creative engagement techniques that also help in gathering data have been seen in Riley County, led by their Community Liaison, Brandon Irwin. They have been utilizing GIS, story mapping, and the Healthy Communities Lab on the K-State campus to determine what health equity looks like in the lives of everyday people. Irwin shared an excellent quote to encompass the mindset they are using to tackle the challenge of utilizing data: “The plural of anecdote is not data…the plural of anecdote is policy.” He states, “We’re actually trying to do both- visualize anecdotes and hard data. Time will tell if we can pull it off.”

HCI:HE recently kicked-off at the Kansas Leadership Center when all Community Liaisons gathered for a 2 ½ day Leadership Training, hosted by the Kansas Health Foundation. To learn more about this initiative or the role of the Community Engagement Institute, contact joyce.mcewancrane@wichita.edu