The entire City of Algoma – population about 3,100 – seemed to be walking on air Sept. 18 when the city could finally announce that it is one of eight communities to be awarded the prestigious 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize.
“This national distinction was really awarded to us because of our efforts to help residents lead healthier lives,” said Algoma School District Superintendent Nick Cochart (who also doubles as middle and high school principal), during a Sept. 18 press conference in Algoma’s Community Wellness Center, a place that is one of the many reasons why Algoma won the award.
“It’s all of us working together and it’s just an amazing award,” Algoma Mayor Wayne Schmidt said at the press conference. “Two years ago when we first got together with the idea of creating a community model for the world to follow, I never would have dreamt we would have gotten this far.”
Schmidt said the city has already hosted visitors from around the world who want to know more about the culture of health and wellness being fostered in the city, and he is looking forward to a two-day meeting next month at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation headquarters in Princeton, N.J., to network with representatives from the seven other winning communities and the 27 other previous winners of the Culture of Health Award.
“This is not the end,” Schmidt said. “This is just the beginning.”
Teal VanLanen of Live Algoma, an entity created in 2015 to advance ideas of health and wellness in the community, outlined the six criteria the city was judged on for the award.
- Defining health in the broadest possible terms, which, she pointed out, includes emotional and financial health as well as physical health.
- Committing to sustainable changes and policy oriented solutions. That, she said, is evident in the many community collaborations that have been formed, which includes Mayor Schmidt appointing high school students to serve on two city committees – Community Development and Parks and Recreation – to get new ideas from them.
- Cultivating a shared and deeply held belief in the importance of equal opportunity for health. VanLanen said the Community Wellness Center where the press conference was being held is an outstanding example of that, with an exercise room and an RN there to offer free health coaching.
- Harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners and community members.
- Securing and making the most of available resources. Here VanLanen pointed to the former credit union that has been transformed into the Pathfinder Academy, a non-traditional school for children who struggle in the traditional setting. Those students who might have become dropouts are now “empowered with a sense of belonging and an interest in improving the world around them,” VanLanen said.
- Measuring and sharing progress and results. She said the city has already been sharing with others around the country and world some of the innovative initiatives that have been put into place.
Also speaking at the press conference was student Madison Robertson, who said the empowering opportunities that have been afforded her in school and in the community have given her “a brighter outlook and a greater purpose overall.”
She also invited the community to a celebration of the community’s collective effort at the Community Wellness Center on Saturday, Oct. 28, with more details to come.
Algoma was chosen for the Culture of Health Prize Award from among more than 200 applicants. Here are some of the specific reasons cited for Algoma’s win:
- The Algoma School District inspiring youth to be the driving force behind a shared commitment to helping all residents thrive. Students conducted CPR trainings for employees of local businesses, led welding classes at the community Fab Lab, and gardened with adults with disabilities.
- Residents, businesses and health providers uniting behind the landmark “Live Algoma” initiative to promote physical, emotional and financial well being.
- The city’s Community Wellness Center, attached to the high school, offering free, confidential health care consultations with a Registered Nurse, healthy eating classes and physical fitness programs for all ages.
“Winning the RWJF Culture of Health Prize is a proud moment for Algoma,” VanLanen said. “Each and every resident plays an important role in helping our community reach its full potential. We knew that in order to truly impact health and well being, we had to work together on a shared vision of what our city could become. Winning the prize is a validation of a lot of hard work and dedication.”
The other areas to be recognized by the award are: Allen County, Kansas; Chelsea, Mass.; Garrett County, Md.; Richmond, Va.; San Pablo, Calif.; the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York; and Vicksburg, Miss.