Community building and collaboration require hard work and perseverance; it may take years before there is discernible progress. Celebration and recognition are important elements in promoting and sustaining community efforts.
Through its publications and when providing technical assistance, the Program encourages participating cities and communities to regularly celebrate their accomplishments. Participants have devised many ways to celebrate. The city of Tulare, for example, has a “Take Stock in Tulare” program that issues shares of “stock” to resident volunteers for a broad array of non-paid community service activities such as mentoring and house painting. The awards are presented to individuals and groups on a regular basis during city council meetings. The city council in West Hollywood formally acknowledges, with official certificates presented at Council meetings, community members who contribute to .
The Program also offers a recognition program for participating Healthy Cities and Communities. Program staff members make formal presentations of awards, often at city council meetings. To acknowledge specific accomplishments, Awards of Distinction are offered in several categories such as community participation, resource development, and program impact. For cities and communities not officially participating in the Program, there is a Special Achievement Awards Program. Communities are eligible for these awards based on successful programs and policies consistent with the Healthy Cities and Communities model. Initiated in 1992, these awards recognize innovative local programs, policies, and plans that take a broad view of health. Applicants are encouraged to convey how planning and implementation has addressed the many factors that improve the health of residents—including employment, culture and recreation, housing, education, environmental preservation, and violence prevention.
Applications are judged on several criteria, including innovation, community-based leadership, equity, collaboration, and impact. In the last seven years, 35 communities have been recognized through these awards. To generate maximum local publicity, awards are presented locally and community celebrations are strongly encouraged.
The experience of the Program over the past 12 years leads to three important observations about launching and sustaining a Healthy Communities movement: the need to be inclusive of, and responsive to, communities’ interests; the need to clarify the scope and breadth of what constitutes Healthy Communities work; and recognition of the long-term nature of this work. Program participants report that the Healthy Cities and Communities movement provides encouragement, peer and Program staff support, energy to persevere, hope, credibility, and status.
The Program has a goal of growing into a statewide movement encompassing all California collaboratives that are engaged, or interested, in this work. Unfortunately, limited resources and funding restrictions have limited participation in the Program to two major categories: cities prepared to implement local initiatives and collaboratives just coalescing to do Healthy Communities work. As a result, existing collaboratives as well as cities interested in this work, that don’t apply for funding have no way to officially affiliate with the Program. Statewide, however, there is widespread interest in the movement, as evidenced by the receipt of more than 40 applications on average for the Program’s annual Special Achievement Awards.
During the last two years, research has revealed a consensus around the value of a statewide network. The most valued benefits include linkages to like-minded colleagues, the potential to locate/leverage resources, use of the network as a source of information, shared learning around best practices, and the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to Healthy Cities and Communities principles.
Establishing a California network is high on the Program’s agenda for the coming year. Under consideration are: defining levels of participation that match the “readiness” of cities and communities; expanding mechanisms of service delivery, including linkages between “veterans” and newer collaboratives; and expanding computer-based technology.
work is by nature long-term, both at the state and local level. It takes years to build the relationships and corresponding trust that allow community efforts to take root and be fruitful. Too often, there is a failure to appreciate how “upstream” this work is, especially when its benefits will not be realized for years or during the terms of political office holders. It is a privilege to have been given this opportunity in California, and we look forward to the expansion of the Healthy Cities and Communities movement in the next millennium.