by Christina Baldisseri, Community Choices, Vancouver, Washington
Editor’s Note: Community Choices Clark County is a Healthiest State Ambassador and a former Hero of Health Winner
Earlier in July, Community Choices staff and volunteers spent a beautiful sunny day at the Fourth Plain International Festival with the goal of engaging community members through soliciting feedback about which of nine identified strategies for health community members prioritize. With consideration of individual’s range of knowledge about the social determinants of health, we conducted a simple sticker exercise that attracted a lot of attention. With four posters displayed, individuals could review each strategy and put a blue sticker dot on what they believed to be the most important, followed by two smaller orange dots for their second and third choices. Strategies included: create and participate in free community events; encourage local business development and job creation; implement a buy local campaign; create and participate in programs to keep kids in school; increase funding of early education programs; ensure that health and mental health professionals are available to all students; create an environment that attracts diverse individuals into our community; prevent homelessness by ensuring affordable housing; and ensure input from all citizens that shape the community.
The attendees of the International Festival, situated in a less-affluent area of Vancouver, appeared to be from a wide variety of backgrounds, with diversity in education, experience, job status, age, and income. The areas selected as most important include: 1. Programs to keep kids in school; 2. Affordable housing to end homelessness; 3. Job creation and economic development.
My favorite part of the day was the handful of times when a parent took them time to explain each area to their children and allowed their kids to pick what was most important to them, often different answers than what their parents selected as most important. Kids asked questions about homelessness and economic development with unique and fresh perspective. These kids were engaged and excited to be part of this process, much beyond the fun of playing with stickers.
I’ve noticed in my short stint in the working world that it often seems difficult to engage people and seemingly for many reasons. Many people don’t seem to believe their voice is valuable, people don’t believe they know enough to have an opinion, or people occasionally just don’t care. By creating an activity that is simple, fairly quick, and focused on meeting people where they are, physically, mentally, and emotionally, we empowered 188 individuals in one day to become part of the process to improve the health of our community.
As mentioned, one of the strategies was “inclusion of all voices of the community”, which turned out to be one of the least selected strategies overall, but seemed ironic because it was unselected by a group of people who were confidently using their voices. I can’t help but to ask “why?” Although it seems counter-intuitive to focus on an area that may not be an urgent priority to community members, I believe we can give value to these voices and show people that their voices are being heard through our commitment to serve our constituents – the individuals who live next door, who might be unable to prioritize attending a city council meeting because of a rigid work schedule or a health forum because they do not have child care or transportation, but are most affected by the efforts of Community Choices to advocate for positive community change. We will continue to work at providing a voice ensuring that our efforts in addressing health disparities are parallel with the needs of our community.