Grant to aid UMES work to improve community health

PRINCESS ANNE — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is one of five land-grant universities (LGUs) to partner with National 4-H Council (Council) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest health philanthropy, to improve health in local communities over the next two years.

UMES will work on this partnership over the next 10 years to build a culture of health in select communities. To reach this goal, Council will use the $4.6 million grant awarded by RWJF to convene the assets of the national Cooperative Extension System (CES), which includes UMES, to leverage 4-H’s youth leadership model.

Youth will work alongside community members, local public health organizations, businesses, government entities, and non-profit agencies to address top public health priorities, such as individual and community well-being, prevention and treatment of chronic disease, and reductions in health care costs.

The 10-year partnership will begin with Council working with five LGUs including UMES, to identify innovator communities and communities in need where they will implement locally-responsive strategies. Each LGU will work in a minimum of three communities to develop an action plan and connect with at least 150 volunteers to mentor youth leaders to build local capacity and ensure successful implementation of the action plan.

“It is an honor to be one of the five universities selected to initiate the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Initiative in the U.S.,” said Dr. Virginie Zoumenou, professor of dietetics and nutrition, state extension nutrition specialist, and extension nutrition and health program leader at UMES. “The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is proud to be part of this Initiative for the next 10 years and is ready to partner with the entire community to reach the ultimate goal, which is to ensure that everyone in the community has the opportunity to make choices that lead to a healthy life.”

UMES was selected, in part, based on their preparedness to drive innovation for other communities and to implement the pilot projects at scale. An additional 56 LGUs will begin to lay the groundwork for expansion into further communities in the future.

The partnership will focus on three key elements to accomplish transformational change: (1) designing a sustainable network structure to promote health and well-being in communities across the nation; (2) creating and disseminating tools for healthier communities; and (3) launching a training curriculum for local community advocates. This approach will exponentially increase the impact and outcomes of the local Health Councils to drive impactful, sustainable changes.

Dr. Michelle Rodgers, Project Director and Associate Dean & Director of Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware, says one of the unique aspects of the CES approach is that one initiative can drive outcomes for both rural and urban communities. “This initiative taps into everything that the Cooperative Extension System has done well since we were formed over a century ago as the national education and community development program of the nation’s land-grant universities,” said Rodgers. “When we combine this with America’s philanthropy leader in health, it is amazing to envision the transformative impact we will have in communities throughout the country.”

The four other LGUs selected for the partnership are South Dakota State University, University of Minnesota, University of Tennessee and Utah State University.

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