By Sue Cody
The Way to Wellville communities met recently in Spartanburg, S.C. with the national Wellville team to share challenges and ideas. Six Clatsop County strategic council members attended and returned with new insights and ideas to propel the local wellness initiative forward.
“It was amazing to meet all the Wellville teams,” said Paulette McCoy, community outreach manager at Providence Seaside Hospital. “We received great information from outside vendors and experts in the health field. I appreciated the opportunity to have a full voice to explain our needs and challenges in Clatsop County.”
The annual gathering was designed for the Wellville communities to deepen their relationships and connect with vendors through breakout sessions, panel discussions and field trips.
“Part of the experience is envisioning a pathway,” said Marya Stark, national navigator for Clatsop County’s Wellville team. “Spartanburg has done a few things that are powerful, and we can see the benefits of going that direction.”
Vendors included organizations that have demonstrated success in promoting healthy behaviors to fight health problems, such as obesity or drug addiction. “We asked vendors not to sell their products, but to share their wisdom,” Way to Wellville founder Esther Dyson said.
Clatsop County’s Way to Wellville is focusing on early childhood education, including ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experience studies) and Trauma Informed Care. Spartanburg was a good setting. Not only is it a fellow Way to Wellville community, it is home to the University of South Carolina-Upstate’s Child Advocacy studies, and the Child Advocacy Center of Spartanburg.
“Spartanburg is a good five to 10 years ahead of us, in terms of an early childhood initiative and compassionate understanding in schools,” said Sydney Van Dusen, Clatsop County’s Way to Wellville coordinator.
“Spartanburg has been doing quite a bit of work on ACEs and creating the Child Advocacy Center,” said Kathy Dunleavy, an organizer of the gathering. The program provides “guardian angels” for kids in the court system and helps teachers understand adverse childhood experiences.
“I was impressed with the structure and accountability to create an environment of community change,” Jill Quackenbush, said. She and other Clatsop County team members visited the university’s Child Protection Training Center, including a mock house that can simulate a multitude of scenarios at a home: child abuse, domestic violence, neglect, drugs or other unsafe conditions. A mock courtroom allows adults to walk children through proceedings that might take place in court.
“The breakout sessions were very rich in learning opportunities,” said Clatsop County’s Health Promotion Specialist Steven Blakesley. “There was one comment that really struck home with me that was made by Chris Story, who is the assistant city manager for Spartanburg. He said that the biggest policy that impacts our work is the budget. That one hit me right square on my forehead. That obvious association has changed my perspective and I will spend more time focused on policy during budget season.”
Dan Gaffney, the Clatsop County P-3 coordinator, said the Community Engagement segment stressed the need to empower people by including them, not by doing things for them.
“I came away with some significant ideas to contemplate” Gaffney said.
“I think we all see the importance of the Wellville communities feeling comfortable enough with each other to stay in close communication – to share our challenges and to ask for advice,” Dunleavy said. “That is why these visits are so important.”
Notes from a German observer
Hilmar Schmundt a reporter for Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, heard about Way to Wellville on NPR and traveled to Spartanburg for the gathering.
“As a reporter writing about technology, I knew Esther Dyson as a tech investor and was intrigued by her approach to improving health,” Schmundt wrote in an email.
“Solidarity, education, a level playing field, good food for kids, physical exercise for all ages, job opportunities are all much more important than gee whizz data crunching capabilities.
“It was an eye opener to see highlighted some very basic insights into how to build a strong community. And into the value of framing the expenditures for a strong community, for good schools, for food education for kids not as charity, but as an investment.
“On a more personal level, I was impressed by the resilience of some community members. One Wellvillian from (Lake County) California had just lost her home, all of her belongings and her pet dogs to a wildfire. Yet she was vivacious and enthusiastic about the plans for the future of her community.”
Note: The Way to Wellville has parted ways with Niagara Falls. The national Wellville team decided top put its efforts where they will have more impact. There are now four Way to Wellville teams: Spartanburg, S.C., Greater Muskegon, Mich., Lake County, Calif., and Clatsop County.
* Photo 1: The Way to Wellville Clatsop County sent six strategic council members to Spartanburg, S.C. for the annual Wellville gathering. From left, Steven Blakesley, Paulette McCoy, Jill Quackenbush, Dan Gaffney, Nancy Knopf and Sydney Van Dusen.
* Photo 2: The national Way to Wellville team speaks at the Spartanburg gathering. From left are Jeff Doemland, Esther Dyson, Marvin Avilez, Marya Stark and Rick Brush.