The health and wellness of a community doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of any one person or organization. Instead, it takes a village from within the community that is willing to collaborate towards a healthier community.
However, sometimes in communities, all the people and organizations that prioritize health and wellness aren’t yet moving in the same direction. To make that happen with our Healthy Poplar Bluff project, we needed a community organization and its leader who was heavily connected in the community, recognized the health issues that mattered to community members, believed in collaboration and the overall mission of making communities healthier, and could give credibility to Healthy Poplar Bluff.
We found this champion for health in an unlikely place. We reached out to hospitals, clinics, behavioral health groups, and every typical public health related organization you might think of. But, it wasn’t until we were pointed in the direction of the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce that we found a community leader who would become one of our most instrumental partners in Poplar Bluff – Chamber President Steve Halter.
Home to 2 of the largest hospital systems in the area, Poplar Bluff is often considered a healthcare hub for the southeast Missouri area. Still, like any other community, they have health concerns that needed to be addressed. And like many rural communities who have been the subject of community programs where researchers or program implementers came in, did a little work, then left abruptly, community members were understandably skeptical of us and our project, Healthy Poplar Bluff.
That’s where Steve and the Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce came in. While the chamber might be an expected partner for new regional business initiatives, it’s not always first thought for health and wellness, though Poplar Bluff may have changed that. Steve, the president of the Chamber, was our touchpoint in the community, connecting us with people at organizations like Butler County Community Resource Center, the Kiwanis Club, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, Black River Medical Center, the Butler County Health Department and members of the Non-Profit Alliance.
These connections opened the door to both partnerships with those organizations individually, as well as joint efforts involving multiple organizations. With their support of Healthy Poplar Bluff and trust in our mission, we were able to carry out a variety of diverse activities, like:
Grow the Poplar Bluff Wellness Fair hosted by the Chamber
Deliver several health literacy trainings for both professionals and community members at the Chamber, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, and University of Missouri Extension
Host cooking demonstrations led by the highest-ranking female chef in the U.S. Coast Guard, at the local high school for their culinary arts students, and the Bread Shed, local volunteer-run organization that provides food to area families in need.
Give out farmers’ market vouchers at 2 community events to encourage healthy eating
Develop signs to direct people through and tell people about the Kiwanis Club’s Bacon Memorial Park
Help with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program led by the Butler County Health Department
Steve’s personal interest in health and wellness and his professional leadership position in the community made him the ideal champion for health. He gave Healthy Poplar Bluff a level of credibility that it may not have had otherwise, helped us tap into organizations and enhance community programs that were already in place to improve the health of the community – and that we did.
According to Steve, “the Poplar Bluff area residents have been positively impacted in the area of health and wellness.”
While the funding for the project may have come to an end, the partnerships we built and our involvement in the community has not. “I am amazed at how great of a partner Health Literacy Media has been for our community,” Steve says, and we plan to honor his words.
Health and wellness remains a priority in the community. We attribute that to the relationships and trust that we built in Poplar Bluff, which started at the Chamber of Commerce, of all places.