In early 2016, I was invited to join a local group pursuing a grant to improve health outcomes in the City of Peoria. The grant, called Invest Health, was designed to bring together a diverse group of leaders from midsized U.S. cities to develop new strategies for increasing and leveraging private and public investments to accelerate improvements in neighborhoods facing the biggest barriers to better health. The program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Reinvestment Fund.
This initiative was developed to provide an opportunity for midsized cities to transform the way local leaders work together to create diverse, solution-driven partnerships. These partnerships emphasize making changes in low-income neighborhoods to improve resident health and well-being. Such changes can focus on increasing access to quality jobs, affordable housing and nutritious food, as well as reducing crime rates and environmental hazards.
With my fellow team members—which include Melissa Adamson with the Peoria City/County Health Department, Derrick Booth with Peoria Public Schools, Lari LaBello with Illinois Central College and Ross Black with the City of Peoria—I have spent time in Philadelphia and Denver learning about equity, collective impact models and the social determinants of health. At one of these sessions, a keynote speaker showed a picture depicting the difference between equality and equity. It was a great way to help everyone understand why the allocation of resources might be different when seeking equity—and how the outcome could provide a better quality of life for all citizens.
Our team has grown beyond five. Community organizations including LISC, Heart of Illinois United Way, Peoria Police Department, Peoria Park District, Gifts in the Moment and others are joining our efforts to see how we might work together—in a more collective and strategic way—to bring greater equity to the city and improve the health of our neighbors and friends.
Our Invest Health team is examining opportunities to leverage city-owned land in Peoria’s south side to generate new socially-motivated microenterprises. These small businesses could offer job opportunities for local residents while helping to improve the neighborhoods.
Our team still has a great deal of work to do to bring this project to reality, but through Invest Health, we are finding resources and examples that are educational and inspiring. We are also finding champions of equity throughout our city and the region who are eager to plug in and play a role in reshaping the future for those in greatest need. iBi