By Amy Slonim

I’m a firm believer that no single sector is able to tackle the barriers to health without collaborating and leveraging the expertise, talents, and resources of others. Engaging community members and leaders with diversity of experience and perspectives creates a strong foundation to improve health at the local level.

The BUILD Health Challenge is an exciting example of this, bringing community based non-profits, hospitals, and public health together to give everyone a fair chance to be healthy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is one of five founding funding partners in the BUILD Health Challenge (BUILD) effort. The project is right in step with our vision of cross-sector collaborations working together to build a Culture of Health.

A core element of this initiative is the understanding that the health of residents in the BUILD communities cannot be separated from the conditions that shape their lives. Tackling everything from poor housing quality, job opportunities, access to healthy foods and safe places to connect and be physically active, and youth violence, these community coalitions are laser-focused on addressing the root causes of disparities and incorporating residents as part of the guiding wisdom and leadership for ongoing solutions.

I recently visited the BUILD community in Des Moines, Iowa. The Healthy Homes Des Moines initiative is addressing pediatric asthma through a robust community coalition that includes all three area hospitals, the Polk County Health Department, the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, and the Housing Division of the Polk County Public Works Department.

Healthy Homes Des Moines repairs aging homes as a cost-effective means to treat childhood asthma. During my visit, I went on a bus tour where coalition members talked about the five-step process of the project: patient identification and referral; home assessment; home repair, and follow up care. They also talked about the progress they have seen over time. What began as a pilot focusing on three neighborhoods in Des Moines has expanded citywide and has the potential to improve childhood asthma rates throughout the city. During the tour, I was also privileged to hear from a local family who has been helped by the Healthy Homes initiative. This was a vivid reminder that ultimately all the BUILD projects underway are about improving lives.

It’s been more than a year since the initial BUILD launch and the power of non-traditional collaboration is growing in the BUILD communities. We are beginning to see what type of gains can be made with deepened engagement between hospitals, local nonprofits, public health and the voice and leadership of community members.

BUILD and all of the program funding partners look forward to lifting up the fresh ideas and innovative strategies that these communities are leading. Stay tuned for more as we move forward to BUILD 2.0: more alliances forged, more communities engaged, more diverse efforts aimed at reducing health barriers, more shared learning across communities, more focused data to inform and measure progress, and ultimately more communities building a Culture of Health.

For More Information

  • Visit the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s website.
  • You can stay up to date with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on social media (Facebook, Twitter).

About the Author

Amy Slonim is a Senior Project Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Among the collaborations she is providing leadership include County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Build Healthy Places Network, BUILD Health Challenge, NNPHI Bridging State Forums and other projects in the Healthy Communities area. In addition she is working to fostering connections and collaborations among hospitals and health systems, public health, businesses, agencies, organizations, and community members. As she puts it, “I want to ignite focus, learning, collaboration, collective impact, and evaluation so that communities can work toward building a Culture of Health for all residents. I relish the opportunity to connect, learn, vision, and build with a group of passionate, committed colleagues internally and externally.”