Partners in health

Indiana State collaborates with local groups to promote wellness.

Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.

That idea is at the heart of new health promotion partnerships between Wabash Valley organizations and Indiana State University. They’ve come together to create programs that implement a community-based approach to improve the health and wellness of Wabash Valley residents. Rooted within neighborhoods, these programs address the area’s health with a slightly different approach than traditional health care services — by targeting a community’s unique needs and reaching community residents where they really live.

“You’ve got to get out into the neighborhoods,” said Jack Turman, a professor in the College of Health and Human Services who helped facilitate these partnerships. The active engagement of communities in health promotion and disease prevention has been the missing link for many areas across the country, including the Wabash Valley.

“There are a lot of great health care providers in Terre Haute,” Turman said. “We have two great hospitals that are really well-staffed. We have all these wonderful private practitioners. We have really great social service delivery agencies. But those health care providers are swamped, and you still have the persistence of chronic health problems.”

Clusters of issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, depression, infant mortality and others are often driven by an underlying cause of multigenerational poverty, Turman said. It’s an extraordinarily complex problem that demands a complex solution to match. The united effort of multiple community participants is needed to provide consistent health education and support across a community.

Emerging partnerships between Indiana State and Wabash Valley organizations are doing just that.

Combining the experience, knowledge, resources and networks of university members and community organizations, these partnerships have created four new health promotion programs. They are driven by community knowledge and priorities, assisted by Indiana State faculty and staff, and implemented by numerous community members and organizations.

Importantly, these programs that focus on the development and health of children are vital to bringing an end to multigenerational poverty and poor health. It’s not surprising that the earlier young people develop healthy habits, the better their quality of life will be. But there’s another benefit — they’re an inspiration for the rest of us.

“We know that you can influence a family through a child,” Turman said. “They’re very open to information, to learn it and to share it. Children want those around them and their loved ones — their mom, dad, grandma and grandpa — to share in good health. If they learn from us that it is really important to be healthy … they want their loved ones to do that.”

For community-based health promotion programs, the right target audience is just one piece of the puzzle. Messages about health must also be delivered where children, families and friends really go.

“A person’s life intersects in many different venues,” Turman said. “You are a member of many different communities. You may be a member of an exercise community, a faith-based community, an educational community, a work community, a philanthropic community. You never know which of those venues is going to have the most influence on one health behavior. If you only have (a health promotion program) at one place, and people intersect with that place only momentarily, then they’re likely not to get a reinforcement of the message. And that place may not be the most valuable to them.”

Together, a focus on children and a community-wide reach at the right locations improves the odds that health messages will be widely disseminated and retained, allowing one health promotion program to have a larger impact. It’s a smart strategy made possible by the full engagement of so many different community participants — not only traditional health care providers, but also schools, nonprofits, businesses, churches, academic institutions and the people who live it every day.

“The key to these partnerships — and I can’t stress this enough — are the community members,” Turman said. “Only they know. They live it every day, and they can tell you what the real issues are and offer solutions.”

Tapping into community members’ first-hand knowledge is crucial to creating relevant programs that can begin to address the particular health needs in the Wabash Valley.

“The PAWS program is amazing,” said Scotia Brown, ’79, principal of Sarah Scott Middle School. The school houses Partners in Academics, Wellness and Success (PAWS), one of the four new health promotion programs, that strives to improve the intertwined components of academic performance and health. The program has been an excellent example of what can be done when community organizations come together to identify real needs and implement solutions.

“We have members from everywhere — the university, mental health, churches, parents, teachers, students — all of those voices come together to say, ‘How can we make this better for our community?’” Brown said.

Their collaborative effort led to the creation of an academic success center, a meditation room for teachers and the provision of necessities like clothing, food, hygiene and household items.

And Indiana State has been right there to help.

“Indiana State … really exemplifies what partnership means,” Brown said. “They came in and asked, ‘What are your needs? How can we help?’”

With generous donations to the Indiana State University Foundation, the institution has been able to provide computers and student tutors for the school’s academic success center, support a monthly learning forum, create a pantry in the school, distribute personal hygiene supplies to each student, help host a health education event for students and families and more.

“All of that lends itself to every student having his or her needs met in food, clothing, mental health, academic success — the whole gamut,” Brown said. “It’s been exciting.”

That same kind of collaboration has been central to all community-based health promotion programs. Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) seeks to strengthen the parent-child bond and optimize child development. Art for Recovery helps develop the mental health of children. The MOM101 mobile app aims to reduce infant mortality. All are guided by the community’s needs and knowledge and assisted by several community organizations, including Indiana State.

“Our job in these partnerships is to facilitate,” Turman said. “In the world of health, we need to be relevant to the community.”

Through the university’s partnerships, the Wabash Valley receives the support it needs — be that faculty expertise or the eager assistance of students — to encourage healthy living. And as Indiana State helps the community, the university also has the chance to conduct research on health promotion programs, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students and inspire them to become the social changers of tomorrow.

“It furthers the institution’s mission that the community and university can work together,” said Liz Metzger, an Indiana State grant specialist who helped facilitate the Play and Learning Strategies program. These new partnerships in health promotion are a reflection of a campus culture that is increasingly dedicated to the surrounding community, she said.

“We are an engaged partner in the Wabash Valley,” Metzger said. “It says a lot for Indiana State that the community sees us as such a helper now.”   

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