Wholespire, SC Office of Rural Health receive funding to collaborate on community health initiative

Wholespire, SC Office of Rural Health receive funding to collaborate on community health initiative

Wholespire, formerly Eat Smart Move More SC, and the South Carolina Office of Rural Health (SCORH) received a grant from the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, for a collaborative project to improve the health of South Carolina’s economically vulnerable citizens.

The project will expand upon the current work of both agencies to address the root causes of poor health outcomes across the state. Wholespire and SCORH each have a strong track record of using a coalition-driven approach to effect health transformation in local communities. The two agencies collectively work with coalitions in 38 counties across South Carolina.

“We know that the health of a community is about more than the medical care received in a doctor’s office or hospital. The social determinants of health – food access, opportunities for recreation and exercise, safe housing, employment and other factors – also play a role in the well-being of a community,” said Darlene Lynch, SCORH’s director of community health transformation. “SCORH and Wholespire are excited to deepen our partnership and serve rural communities as they work to elevate their overall health status.”

The grant will support this work for four years across the state. The primary components of this project will be the creation of a technical assistance model that includes scalable training and coaching, and capacity building and financial support for urban and rural coalitions across the state to improve population health.

“Over the years, our organizations found that our work increasingly overlapped, so in 2020, Wholespire and SCORH began conversations to create a formal partnership and establish a collaborative project,” said Wholespire’s Executive Director Meg Stanley. “We both view this as an opportunity to leverage the expertise and resources of Wholespire and SCORH to create greater impact and to be a model of collaboration for local communities and state partners.”

This initiative will build off the successes of SCORH’s Blueprint for Health program and Wholespire’s Let’s Go 3.0 mini-grant initiatives that also were funded by the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation.

  • Blueprint for Health allowed SCORH to offer funding of up to $25,000 to 12 communities to bring together rural community leaders from multiple sectors to collaborate on solutions to the root causes for poor health and build capacity at the local level to solve community health issues.
  • Let’s Go 3.0 mini-grants offered funding of up to $5,000 each for projects that increased access to healthy foods and safe places for physical activity through policy, systems, and environmental change projects.
SC School for Deaf and Blind Implements Fountains of Health Project

SC School for Deaf and Blind Implements Fountains of Health Project

Eat Smart Move More South Carolina invested at least $43,219.48 into mini grant projects that addressed healthy eating over the course of a three-year project supported with funds from BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation.  Fourteen projects were completed in eleven different communities. 

One of the many successful projects includes the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind….

Unforeseen Advantages
The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind is the only school in South Carolina that serves deaf, blind and multi-sensory disabled students. The school serves almost 1600 students statewide, with 175 students living on campus Monday through Friday. “As a residential school, our students spend a lot of time with our staff and, like all children, they emulate the behaviors they see. If we want them to eat healthier and exercise, we need to include our staff,” said the Director of Development, Weslie Higdon. With this in mind, the Pathways to Healthy Living project was started at the school with a grant from the JM Smith Foundation in 2018. The overarching goal of the project was to encourage staff and students to live healthier.

This project started with a healthy snack initiative in the first year and then moved onto the Fountains of Health, which consisted of buying water bottles for everyone and adding water bottle filling stations in various locations on campus. “We had no idea that the pandemic was coming so it was just like serendipity that this great project was able to work in a way that we didn’t originally think of to keep our students and our staff safe,” Alice Lang, the Grants Coordinator, reflected on the project. 30 water bottle filling stations were added to the campus, four of which were installed with the Let’s Go 3.0 Mini Grant.

Reactions to the Fountains of Health
A lot of the problems they encountered were technical things in the older buildings. The campus was first built in 1849 and one of the water fountains that was replaced with a filling stations was installed in 1969. Some of the ideas they had in mind for the filling stations weren’t feasible due to the way the buildings were originally built. Weslie and Alice praised their contractor, Cooler Dude, for solving the problems that they never envisioned being a problem.

Another filling station was installed in Walker Hall, where 700 water bottles were filled between August and December. Needless to say, the project has been a huge hit among students and staff, especially since the water fountains weren’t able to be used due to COVID-19. Weslie’s favorite part “was when everyone came back to campus and saw them. I had a teacher tell me ‘We were worried that we were going to have to work with them on it, but they were so excited, they just walked right up to it and started filling up their bottles, they were so glad that they finally had one in that school.’”

The other two filling stations are outside by the track, an area Weslie and Alice thought would have to be put on hold. The campus isn’t currently open to the public, but once they open back up, the campus welcomes community members and hosts sporting events like soccer, football, and goalball, a game designed for people with blindness! Weslie is sure the outside filling stations will be popular among the community members. “The welcome center gets calls every day about if the track is open yet so I know that when we do allow people back on campus, it will get used a lot. It’s so nice not to have to cart your water or watch how much you drink or forget it in the car and have to go back and get it.”

Next Steps
This is the final year of funding for the Pathways to Healthy Living project, but the project will still move forward to encourage students and staff to live healthier. Projects for the spring will depend on how COVID-19 pans out, but Alice is sure the project will last past the funding. “Next steps will really be about sustainability. Many of our students are considered low income, and many of the families we work with are struggling to put food on the table right now. They don’t have time to sit down and teach them about nutrition and exercise and the importance of drinking water so that’s a vital role that we play here in instructing our students and giving them an example, so I’m sure that administration will continue with this, maybe with different projects, but it needs to be sustained”

Please visit Eat Smart Move More SC’s Options for Action page for information on how to implement healthy eating strategies in your community.

Keystone Substance Abuse Services Completes Walking Trail Loop

Keystone Substance Abuse Services Completes Walking Trail Loop

BEFORE: An unsafe walking path

Healthy eating and active living opportunities are essential to the quality of life for every single individual regardless of their socioeconomic status. This is true for those who experience substance use disorders too. In fact, healthy eating and active living are life skills that people in recovery need to lead a quality, sober life. That’s one reason why Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) decided to fund Keystone Substance Abuse Services’ Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant proposal.

“The Keystone project is an example of ESMMSC trying to address equity and access,” said Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES, community initiatives manager at ESMMSC. “When I think of equity, I think of giving people what they need to be successful. Patients at Keystone needed a safe and clean walking path to achieve success in managing not only their recovery, but also their physical and mental health.”

Making the Case for Keystone
When ESMMSC reviewers scored the Keystone mini-grant application high, staff took a serious look at the application and weighed the benefits of choosing to fund an organization that doesn’t reach a large number of people compared to a proposal that does. Historically, ESMMSC funds organizations that can have a large impact on community health, but the Keystone application gave staff a new perspective.

Keystone is York County’s largest provider of treatment and prevention services. It’s also one of four public

AFTER: A clean, safe place to exercise

withdrawal management programs in the state, so they often serve patients from across the state of South Carolina, not just York County residents. Also, many of their patients are either uninsured or underinsured, meaning patients largely represent a low socioeconomic class – a group at high risk for physical and mental health problems.

“If patients can learn physical activity habits during their stay, these individuals can have a sustainable option for reducing depression and anxiety, increasing self-efficacy, decreasing stress, increasing coping skills, and ultimately providing individuals with a positive, sober alternative activity,” said Danielle Russell, executive director of Keystone Substance Abuse Services. “Not only will physical activity help in their recovery, but it can teach individuals lifelong skills that will reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve optimal health and wellness.”

Despite this clear link between physical and mental health, organizations that address mental health and physical health largely remain siloed from each other. This project, while a nontraditional partnership for ESMMSC, represented an opportunity to bridge the connection between mental and physical health. ESMMSC staff saw the Keystone project as a direct link to social determinants of health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion – ESMMSC’s core values. By funding the Keystone project, ESMMSC staff realized the lasting impact they could have on people with substance use disorders and those close to them.

From Mud Pit to Clean Path
Keystone had a partially paved walking trail loop (.25 mile) on their campus, but it was rundown and oftentimes turned into a mud pit when it rained. Even under the unsafe conditions, counselors would try to get patients outside as often as possible for some extra stimulation and therapy. Keystone staff wanted more for their patients and themselves. They wanted to complete the loop so that their patients could thrive, and their staff could also focus on their personal health.

A Keystone inpatient counselor said, “One of the biggest complaints I get from some of the patients is that they are feeling lethargic once they start to feel better. Keeping them indoors with minimal exercise seems to exaggerate those symptoms. Many have specifically said that just getting their body moving and being outdoors helps them feel better overall (physically and mentally). We try when it’s nice out just to get them to take a walk, and often those are some of the best groups we have. It seems to support the theory that physical activity and sunshine provide essential therapeutic components.”

According to their application, physical activity is a part of an individual’s life that is often lost during their addiction. Physical activity can help individuals find their path to recovery. Evidence shows that physical activity can help provide structure to their days, generate positivity, distract them from cravings, and heal their body and brain.

A New Path to Coping
Keystone completed their walking trail loop, and now, patients and staff have a safe place to exercise, to meet, and to cope. All of the staff interviewed indicated they take their patients outside to walk the loop, and they’re seeing positive changes.

An Inpatient Clinical Counselor said, “I take patients out there as often as possible. Walking, having group time and individual time with patients helps decrease stress and anxiety and patients open up more.”

An Inpatient Technician and a Substance Abuse Specialist said, “I will take patients out on the trail in the afternoons and after dinner, if the weather is good. They are so glad to get outside. There are times when they compete and walk very fast, skip or hop to exercise, and have fun.”

Employees Benefit Too
ESMMSC knows the importance of employee health and wellness – that includes mental health too. Worksite wellness programs and policies lead to improved health of employees, decreased health care costs, and improved productivity. So, when the Keystone application mentioned worksite wellness, it was one more very good reason to fund their proposed project.

Before the project was completed, employees noted having to jump mud puddles and other obstacles on the loop or just choosing to walk the parking lot near a busy street. Now, they find the loop to be pleasing and beneficial.

“I use the path for afternoon walks and utilize the entire track. If our power goes out, or I find time I use it at other times as well,” said the Outpatient Programs Administrator. “Walking was the recommendation of my heart doctor. It helps clear my mind. I step away from the computer and it helps me stay focused on the moment.”

“I go for a walk every afternoon around 2:00. It gets me ready for the final two hours of the workday to get energized for the afternoon. One to two laps revitalize me. I wish I had time to walk more,” said an Outpatient Clinical Counselor.

The .25-mile walking trail loop can be used by people of all ability levels, and it gives patients and staff an opportunity to walk, jog, or just enjoy fresh air. What’s next for the Keystone walking trail loop? Build fitness stations along the trail to increase strength and conditioning, and possibly lighting for late evening walks.

Lancaster County Food Desert Gets Temporary Relief

Lancaster County Food Desert Gets Temporary Relief

Like so many rural areas in South Carolina, the Town of Heath Springs in Lancaster County experiences the hardships of being in a food desert and not having easy access to healthy food. With social distancing and other restrictions in place, residents were facing more difficult uncertainties regarding feeding their families.

Heath Springs leaders heard about emergency food relief through Eat Smart Move More South Carolina and used the grant as an opportunity to jump-start sustainable change in its food system.

“As we continue to navigate the current national pandemic crisis, our Community Health Initiative is compelled to extend its community outreach project by providing a Food Distribution Day in the desolate Stoneboro community area,” said Dr. Zora Denson, a retired educator and the community-relations volunteer for Heath Springs.

Approximately 125 families in the targeted Stoneboro community received fresh produce boxes that contained enough fruits and vegetables to feed 1-2 people for one week. Through this project, the Community Health Initiative created four new partnerships.

“Due to the limited mobility of residents and lack of physical access to a local grocery store, this service afforded residents the opportunity to make healthier food choices associated with good nutrition,” said Dr. Denson. “The Town of Heath Springs used the funds to pre-pay for fruits and vegetables from Rich Hill Farms and FoodShare SC, and we distributed at free or reduced cost to Stoneboro residents.”

To address the food insecurity issue in the long-term, leaders are planning to further expand their efforts by discussing potential implementation of a monthly “pop-up” farmers market. The Lancaster County Health and Wellness Commission is working with FoodShare SC to bring the program to Lancaster.

For more information about the Town of Heath Springs, visit their website. To learn more about healthy eating and active living initiatives in Lancaster County, visit the Eat Smart Move More Lancaster County website.

Neighbor Network ‘Mutual Aid’ Answers Community Calls for Help

Neighbor Network ‘Mutual Aid’ Answers Community Calls for Help

ALICIA NEAVES
WLTX COLUMBIA
MAY 21, 2020

At the start of the pandemic when thousands of South Carolinians became jobless overnight, Mutual Aid was born.

“In lower-income communities, mutual aid happens all the time but it’s not normalized. Neighbors are always helping each other, and we’re just expanding that spirit,” said volunteer, Carla Damron.

Mutual Aid is a volunteer-based organization in Columbia with about 70 members.

“The Mutual Aid way is that we’re not really asking questions,” said volunteer, Dylan Gunnels. “We just know that you need help.”

Midlands residents in need of necessities, masks, toys and games for kids, or just a person to talk to can contact volunteers to ask for help. Volunteers can be reached through the Mutual Aid website, Facebook page, or a bilingual telephone hotline (888-927-6679).

“No questions asked,” said volunteer, Omme-Salma Rahemtullah. “You need your light bill paid? We’re gonna figure out how to get together some money.”

Once volunteers receive a request, the Mutual Aid network springs into action.

“Here’s the need. Who can respond?” said volunteer, Deborah Billings, who helped start Mutual Aid. “We’ve had responses that range from, ‘Hey, I’ll call Instacart and make the order’, and five people will pitch in $20 each and we get that grocery bill covered.”

The organization doesn’t just wait on requests. They brainstorm on a weekly basis about other needs in the community, like a gift card drive and an e-drive to meet electronic and internet access needs.

“We’re currently doing an e-drive to request if people have electronics they’re not using to donate to us,” said Rahemtullah. “Someone just actually sent me one in the mail. It’s a tablet.”

For local seniors who need a ride to the store, Mutual Aid volunteers can help.

A representative from the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) also reached out to Mutual Aid in efforts to get masks for employees and the youth at the facility. Volunteers got to work immediately to fill that need.

“There was a call out from the Lutheran Services, who works with adults with developmental delays, that they needed activities for adults to do,” said Rahemtullah. “We put it out on Facebook, this woman saw it…and she dropped off 10 big garbage bags full of yarn.”

In some cases when supplies were low to make masks, volunteers reach out to their network of friends who help fill the gap.

“I’m really amazed at how people are willing to contribute,” said Damron. “Even if you just call friends and say, ‘We have a family that hasn’t had groceries in two weeks, can you help?’ and they’re saying, ‘Sure!'”

Aside from volunteers helping financially, .  The Sabor Latino initiative is coordinated by Mutual Aid volunteer, Nelly Jolley.

Billings says Mutual Aid connected with Eat Smart Move More, and after a written proposal about Sabor Latino, the organization received a $3,000 grant to help fund the initiative. She says $25 a week can feed a family of four.

“Now in the time of this pandemic, certain resources like unemployment benefits, like the CARES Act, they are not accessible to these community members,” said Billings of the Midlands Latino community. “How do they pay for their rent? How do they pay for their food? It becomes really a critical, critical issue.”

The organization isn’t limited to donation drives or grocery delivery. They try and meet any need, such as helping in the fight for tenants who can’t pay rent due to the pandemic. Gunnels started the petition to push this conversation with state and local leaders.

“Maybe there’s the possibility of working out long-term payment plans for short-term missed payments because of the COVID situation,” said Gunnels.

If you’d like to volunteer or if you’re in need of assistance, call the Mutual Aid hotline at 888-927-6679 or visit mutualaidmidlands.org.

“We’re all feeling powerless right now facing this virus, but this is a little thing we can do to help our neighbors,” said Damron. “Everyone has something to offer.”

“I really feel like this is what we’re called to do,” said Gunnels. “I feel like we are called to love our neighbor, we are called to serve our neighbor.”

Spartanburg Families Receive a Helping, Healthy Lift

Spartanburg Families Receive a Helping, Healthy Lift

GENNA CONTINO
SPARTANBURG HERALD-JOURNAL
JUNE 16, 2020

TIM KIMZEY/SPARTANBURG HERALD-JOURNAL

Tuesday afternoon, cars filled with Spartanburg residents wrapped around Mary H. Wright Elementary School to pick up boxes of produce. Volunteers dropped off boxes filled with tomatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, lettuce, corn and more in the back seats of cars while people yelled “thank yous” and children waved.

The produce giveaway was organized by Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers (D-Spartanburg), Eat Smart Move More South Carolina and Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas. Volunteers joined Henderson-Myers and event organizers to hand out boxes and bags of produce and vouchers for $10 at the Hub City Farmers’ Market.

“COVID-19 and people being out of work or having to work reduced hours and families not being able to have money to feed themselves,” was Henderson-Myers’ inspiration for the event, she said.

In Spartanburg County, about 93,000 people live in a food desert or an area where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food, according to South Carolina DHEC’s food desert map. More than 8,000 of those live along South Church Street near Mary H. Wright
Elementary School.

The pandemic has made it even harder for those living in food deserts to find healthy food to eat, said Alissa Duncan, Spartanburg food systems coordinator for Partners for Active Living.

South Carolina’s food desert map

“It exacerbates the problem,” Duncan said about COVID-19. “A food desert is a characteristic of low income and low access combined.”

Last year, a Save-A-Lot supermarket went out of business in the area, leaving those who live around that area of South Church Street without an easily accessible grocery store. There have been discussions about a new grocery store opening in the area, Henderson-Myers said,
but she hasn’t heard of any recent progress.

Though there were 200 boxes and 50 bags available, the cars kept coming, wrapping all the way around the school, down Marion Avenue and onto South Church Street.

“Only one per car, I’m sorry,” volunteers said to those with two or three families in their cars. Mattie Sarter drove with her friend, Amy Fuller, to pick up produce, but they were only able to get one box.

“I got five in my family,” Sarter said, unable to share the produce with Fuller. Fuller lives near South Church Street and Sarter normally picks her up to take her to the grocery store. Henderson-Myers said she hopes to host more events like this in the future to help her
community.

“The overall impact is that people will get some healthy foods and they’ll be able to feed their families, at least for the few meals that they’ll provide,” Henderson-Myers said.

Read the full article and see pictures from the event.