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Creating Healthy Connections in Jackson County

What I appreciate about Purdue Extension is that even when it’s not directly in their realm, they know who to connect you to and are willing to help make that connection,

- Ashley Caceres, bilingual healthcare navigator at Jackson County United Way.

Caceres joins Molly Marshall, Purdue Extension Jackson County health and human sciences educator, and representatives from numerous organizations at Healthy Jackson County (HJC), a health coalition. HJC works to create a culture of health and wellness in the community through policies, education, system and environmental changes.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schneck Medical Center, a key leader in HJC, identified that there was a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among the Jackson County Latinx population. While continuing to meet virtually, HJC members created the Hispanic Health Taskforce with a goal of decreasing cases through prevention education.

Caceres explains that the Purdue Extension partnership was crucial in enabling the group to create COVID-19 educational materials. Marshall connected HJC with the Juntos 4-H site coordinator in Jackson County, Iveth Vasquez, who made sure educational materials were available for all reading levels and assisted with the first vaccine clinic that reached over 100 people.

Other efforts Caceres explained included recruiting student volunteers and translating handwashing instructions into multiple languages including Spanish and Chuj, a Mayan language spoken by indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Caceres says that this is a fast-growing population in the area.

In the past year alone, a total of 363 vaccinations were administered. Caceres adds, “Everyone that’s a part of the taskforce genuinely wants to get things done. Everything we talk about has an actionable step and actionable result.”

Building and strengthening community relationships is exactly what Extension educators are aiming to do through healthy living coalitions. Coalitions are a powerful way to utilize resources efficiently and bring together community partners to address specific health needs,” says Marshall.

HJC successfully completed a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Marshall says the CHIP completion provided a strong community application for additional funding including a $2.5 million Health Issues and Challenges Grant awarded from the Indiana Department of Health in 2022. Grant funds will be used to improve and expand public health initiatives including nutrition education, access to healthy food and greenspaces, and health screenings.

more than 79 Purdue Extension professionals in 66 counties reported involvement with coalitions in 2022.  380 new connections due to Purdue Extension outreach.
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