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North St. Louis County partnership wins national health prize

Children try out a stretch at the Pagedale Center  on May 20, 2016.
Criss Cross | Beyond Housing
Children try out a stretch at the Pagedale Center at an event sponsored by Beyond Housing's 24:1 Initiative.

A community development effort spearheaded by the local nonprofit Beyond Housing is being recognized as a national leader for supporting better health outcomes.

The 24:1 initiative, a collaboration between the 24 north St. Louis County municipalities within the footprint of Normandy Schools, has been awarded the Culture of Health Prize by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The idea behind the Culture of Health Prize is to highlight communities that are having an impact so that their ideas can be replicated across the country. This year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the prize to seven communities across the country, including 24:1.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, the director of the Culture of Health Prize program, said 24:1 stood out because it crosses city boundaries to pool resources and invest in the wider region’s needs, and because it takes a comprehensive approach to health.

“We’re always looking for communities that are truly looking at those who are at the greatest risk for poor health,” said Willems Van Dijk, who works at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“So the resilience and focus of this community on how important it was to secure the accreditation of their school district after they had lost it to make sure that their children were going to get a good education so that they would be able to get good employment and be successful in the future was very, very inspiring to us.”

Willems Van Dijk highlighted the community health workers and family liaison workers in the schools, and the grocery store 24:1 put in an area that used to be a food desert.

Normandy students listen in class in this undated photo taken for the 2016 Culture of Health Prize.
Credit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Normandy School District was renamed the Normandy School Collaborative in 2014 after the state dissolved the old district and appointed a new board.

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson said the initiative is making a difference in the district by helping children come to school ready to learn.

“We know that if children and families are healthier, that our children are going to attend school more frequently. We know that if our children are healthier we’re going to have better behavior in classrooms,” Pearson said. “We know that our attendance has improved, we know that instruction has been able to be improved. There are far, far fewer disruptions in classrooms. And I attribute all of that directly to the support that families are getting in the district as a result of this initiative.”

Willems Van Dijk said winning the prize isn’t a sign that the work is done, but a recognition of the prize winner’s ongoing impact.

“24:1 being selected as a prize winner is just a beginning on their journey towards a culture of health, not an end, because of the opportunity to continue to learn together,” Willems Van Dijk said. “For example, 24:1 has done this great job of formulating the North County Police (Cooperative) with shared resources. So if we came upon another community that was looking at consolidating police services, we might very well connect those communities one on one so they can dig in deeper and learn from each other.”

Pearson also acknowledged that there’s a lot that needs to be done at Normandy to improve educational outcomes.

“We have a great deal of work we’re still doing, but we are excited about the progress. And a lot of that progress is owed to the support that partnerships like Beyond Housing offer us,” Pearson said.

The Culture of Health Prize comes with a small monetary reward: $25,000. But the bigger reward comes in the form of recognition, connection to resources, and the opportunity to swap ideas with other prize winners.

“Our work and what we do is added to this great portfolio of ‘here’s how we can help make community stronger, here’s how we can look at the challenges that so many families and children are facing and provide an array of programmatic services and supports,” said Chris Krehmeyer, executive director of Beyond Housing.

“We’re now part of this family of communities that is doing innovative things in many different ways all across the country,” Krehmeyer said. “It’s really wide and varied, so we’re trying to learn from each other and, again, trying to let others learn from us.”

Both Pearson and Krehmeyer said it was an affirmation to receive the Culture of Health Prize, a sentiment Willems Van Dijk said was common among prizewinners.

One of the things we’ve seen from a number of prizewinners is this acknowledgement, this pat on the back, being raised up as an example, can be very motivating to a community,” Willems Van Dijk said. “So much of the time communities are doing this hard work, and they are plodding along day by day and they don’t ever get a chance to stop and reflect both on how far they’ve come, or to realize that they are really doing incredible work.”

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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