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A comprehensive approach to community development

March 30, 2021
Community members unload a truck of food boxes to distribute to agencies and pantries in Fayette Cou

In 2018, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study on county health rankings reported that Fayette County ranked 92nd — the least healthy county in Indiana. Community members were dismayed, but also determined to improve their standing.

Their efforts had begun a few years earlier, when a group of volunteers worked with Purdue Extension’s Community Development team to form Fayette County Community Voices. Recognizing that key community concerns were often intertwined, this nonprofit organization focuses on education and literacy, community health and environment, development of public spaces, and social and cultural life.

Becky Marvel, Fayette County’s Nutrition Education Program Community Wellness Coordinator, recognized food insecurity as a key community health concern. She taught nutrition education in after-school programs and helped ensure that underserved members of the community have access to fresh produce with special farmers market events.

Community Voices also formed a Food Council to provide nutrition education and resources through community partnerships and collaborations with organizations like Gleaners Food Bank, HATCH and the USDA’s Farm to Family program. This year the Council coordinated a special food distribution for veterans.

(Photo caption: Community members work together to distribute food to agencies and pantries.

Photo: Fayette County Food Council)

After creating a community action plan through Extension’s Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces: Creating Healthy Communities program, Community Voices applied for grant funding and collaborated with the nonprofit Discover Connersville to develop The Oasis. A vacant lot converted to a green space, community garden and performance venue, The Oasis capitalizes on the connection between public space and community health. The educational garden provides fresh produce in a downtown food desert and a place to enjoy walking paths and concerts.

Other Purdue centers and departments have also partnered with Fayette County to improve community health. The Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering received $1.1 million over three years to reduce prescription opioid abuse and increase patient access to addiction treatment and recovery services.

That effort to combat opioid misuse is multidimensional, explains Lee Ann Robertson, member and former president of Community Voices. “What they’re looking at now are health issues within the community that influence addiction — food security, poverty, joblessness, mental health and lots of things.”

Fayette County benefits from these partnerships, and so do Purdue students. Carmen Jones, Clinical Assistant Professor in Nursing, brainstormed with Health and Human Sciences Extension leaders to determine where her students could conduct community health assessments and make a difference. In 2019, 93 nursing students in 11 teams traveled to Fayette County to make physical observations and meet with residents. Students then analyzed and reported on their findings to county leaders, who plan to work with Purdue to implement the recommendations and apply for grants to aid local health initiatives.

In another collaboration with Purdue’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, juniors in Assistant Professor Aaron Thompson’s landscape architecture studio class designed a corridor from Connersville’s 2nd Street Park to The Oasis, connecting the downtown area public spaces and enhancing community wellness and quality of life.

“I felt like Extension was the glue there and so Extension was the connector to the university. I really love working with the university; to me it’s a no brainer, and I think every county office should try to do that,” says Becky Marvel, Fayette County Community Wellness Coordinator.

 

“With some of the really significant things that are happening within the county, Purdue Extension, Community Voices and Discover Connersville have all worked together collaboratively to move the community forward.” – Lee Ann Robertson, Fayette County Community Voices

 

See how Extension served your Indiana community in the 2020 Purdue Extension Impact Report: extension.purdue.edu/annualreport/.

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