Del Norte County and Tribal Lands has been named a finalist in a nationwide competition celebrating communities—urban, rural, tribal, large or small—that are beacons of hope and progress for healthier people, families and places.
The entire community of Del Norte and Tribal lands is being recognized — not one entity or agency or person — and was one of 12 out of nearly 200 selected this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “ Culture of Health Prize.”
“We are a diverse rural community and this national nomination is proof of how all of us can make our community healthy, safe and successful when we all work together,” said Kara Miller, board chair for the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, one of the co-applicants for the award.
WRCF and Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation worked together in applying for the Prize. WRCF serves as the backbone organization selected by the community for the ten-year place based initiative Building Healthy Communities, funded by The California Endowment.
“Many generations of folks — in government, nonprofits, community organizations and agencies — have been working year after year to improve our community,” said Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard. “This type of recognition or anything that sheds light on all this work is extremely important.”
Del Norte County and Tribal Lands was selected from nearly 200 applicants in a multi-phased process that began November 2018. Other 2019 finalists include Boward County, Florida; Carrollton, Georgia; Lake County, Colorado, Sitka, Alaska and Vista, California.
“These communities have set themselves apart by recognizing that health is about opportunity. It is connected to every element of our lives—good schools, safe and affordable housing, high-quality jobs that pay a fair wage and so much more,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the New Jersey-based RWJF. “In the coming months, we look forward to visiting each community to learn more about how it is working with local leaders and residents to shape solutions in all these areas that impact health.”
RWJF representatives will visit each community later this month through May to make their final decisions on which communities will receive the Culture of Health Prize which includes a $25,000 award. In 2018, four communities received the Prize.
“We nominated our whole community in partnership with the Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation because there are significant improvements across our community that have taken place over the past 10 plus years. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual county health rankings, they are seeing it, too,” said Building Healthy Communities Initiative Director Michelle Carrillo.
In 2009, Del Norte County was ranked 55 out of 59 counties in California for overall health outcomes. In 2018 we were ranked 39th, Carrillo said.
“Collaboration among residents, community partners and agencies makes a difference and this is an opportunity to celebrate what is working,” she said. “The entire community of Del Norte and Tribal lands is being recognized nationally, not one entity or agency or person, because that is what it really takes to change the odds.”
Stories of success:
The stories of success that were shared showcase measurable health outcomes but also demonstrate the way the community has worked together to better understand some of the most complex issues. Examples given included but were not limited to were improved access to health care services and insurance coverage, the call to action and collaborative effort to get more children prepared for kindergarten and learning how to read. Also, nonprofits working with the community college to provide career exploration opportunities for hundreds of teens, the development of community gardens and food forests and better access to healthy food, and residents organizing on the upper Yurok Reservation to bring back cultural burning practices along the Klamath River that improve the health of the land and cultivate materials for traditional uses.
Click HERE for a short video from the perspective of local residents highlights the good work being done in Del Norte and Tribal Lands.
Tolowa Dee-Ni’ tribal member Felicity Lopez credits the committed support staff at the tribe’s foster care program for her successful transition through her teen years.
“Having the judge. Having my social worker. Having everyone in the tribal court was nice because I had to be honest,” said Lopez, now 20 and working as a tribal court clerk. “We want to build up our people to be assets in the community. As long as we focus on people and their well-being, I think that’s going to continue to pay off.”
Melodee Mitchell, executive director of the Del Norte Child Care Council, said it took a combined effort among local agencies, childcare providers and individuals to improve literacy rates and kindergarten readiness among Del Norte County’s children during the last five years.
“Within the first 12 months, we saw a huge increase in enrollment in quality programs. Childcare providers were embracing (the literacy work) that was happening in the community,” Mitchell said.
For Hilda Contreras, clinic administrator for the Del Norte Community Health Center, success came in the increased access for low-income residents because of the Affordable Care Act and a grant from The California Endowment, decreasing the uninsured rate from 40 percent to 5 percent of patients.
“For people who usually don’t come to a doctor because they don’t have money, or don’t have insurance, we were able to sign them up,” Contreras said.
Communities who received the RWJF Prize will join a national network of past prize-winning communities and have the ability to share their stories and lessons learned with the country. The 2019 winners will be announced this fall.
The RWJF Culture of Health Prize is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.