How We Do What We Do
When I was interviewed for the Executive Director position at Healthy Peninsula in the fall of 2014, one of the questions posed to me was, “What is something that you would like to work on for HP?” My answer was then and is now, “Help the general public understand what Healthy Peninsula 'does' ." It comes up quite often. “What do you DO?” “What PROGRAMS or SERVICES do you offer?” It is a fair and simple question, for sure. The answer, however, is not quite so simple.
With the exception of the oversight we offer to programs such as the Magic Food Bus, Choices That Matter, and Age-Friendly Coastal Communities, Healthy Peninsula does not primarily provide direct services or programs. There, I said it. Healthy Peninsula mission is to focus on community and on health. It's right in our mission statement: ”Improving the health of our towns...” But what could be more nebulous and elusive than the definitions of those two very important words? What "community" means to a young parent living on the edge of poverty in one of our towns may be very different from what "community" means to a senior on hospice care on the other side of the peninsula. The definition of "health" is as individual as each person you ask on any given day and is rarely about annual physical exams and preventive screenings. It is about quality of life, having enough, being connected, and feeling supported. So there is no definitive answer to what a community is or what health looks like. That is our challenge: making sure all the voices are raised up, shining a light on who we really are as a community and what we need to thrive.
It is an interesting dynamic, the relationship between community and health. Strong, informed, responsive communities provide opportunities for optimal health and success equitably for all of those who live there. People who feel supported, who have access to care and resources, go on to be successful community members. Kids who can read by grade 3 have a much greater likelihood of graduating high school, opening the doors of opportunity. Caregivers who have access to respite care and support are able to keep their loved ones out of emergency rooms and care facilities.
One thing that we do know for sure is that by listening to, learning from, and growing with the people who live on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle/Stonington, we collectively stand the best chance of truly understanding the complex social issues our families are living right in the middle of. By utilizing that valuable information to shape partnerships, programs, and initiatives, we can improve opportunities for those families to be as successful as they can be. Having community-level information is the only thing that can lead to real change.
So what exactly does Healthy Peninsula DO? The heart of our work is community engagement focused on healthy aging in place, healthy eating, and early childhood school readiness. Following the principles of Collective Impact, we are keenly interested in hearing and gathering real-time feedback and personal stories. We convene. In layman’s terms, we call a meeting to share what we have learned and ask others who share similar concerns how they want to get involved. What needs to happen to make a change or fill a gap that would improve the life of a young child, chronically ill adults, or seniors? What is the plan of action? Who takes the lead? And then, once the momentum picks up and ideas are formed into action, Healthy Peninsula steps back and lets the collaborations that have developed in response to the needs of the community take flight.
Ironically what we DO and the thing that makes our work difficult to explain is that if we have done our job well─issues are being addressed by the experts in the field and conditions improving for our residents─is that nobody will even know Healthy Peninsula was the initial catalyst for change. Not unlike defining community or pinning down what “health” is, we are nebulous and elusive like that too.