By Dee Longfellow

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) located in New Jersey calls itself “the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health.” It is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. The RWJF periodically awards its coveted “Culture of Health Prize” to just ten communities across the nation and in the most recent selection, Addison made the list. The prize honors and elevates communities at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity, and equity for all.

“The 2020–2021 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners are striving to make good health and well-being achievable for all their residents,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “They understand the clear connection between the opportunity for health and education, jobs, and housing. They are leaning into community-led solutions that break down barriers caused by structural racism and other forms of discrimination.”

Each winner will receive a $25,000 prize, join a growing network of prize-winning communities, and have their accomplishments shared broadly to inspire other communities across the nation, Besser said.

“Prize communities share a commitment to investing in a broad range of solutions and coordinated steps to usher in lasting change,” he said.

Besides Addison, the other 2020–2021 prize winners were Alamosa County, Colo.; Chickaloon Native Village; Drew, Miss.; Howard County, Md.; National City, Calif.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Rocky Mount, N.C.; Thunder Valley Community—Oglala Lakota Nation (Oceti Sakowin Territory); and Worcester, Mass.

The Foundation will honor this year’s winners at a virtual celebration and learning event to be held Nov. 9–10, where representatives from the prize communities will talk through the different ways they are leveraging their strengths and bringing partners together to expand opportunity. The 10 new winners will also connect with their 44 fellow Prize Alumni communities.

A connection to School District 88

“The strength of Addison is our community partnerships,” said Dr. Jean Barbanente, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88. “Whether it’s about academics, physical health, social-emotional needs, or equity and inclusion, we’re able to support all aspects of health through the relationships we have with organizations across Addison.”

Barbanente said building Addison Resources Connect (ARC) was key to forming networks of support throughout the village. The consortium launched during the 2004-05 school year as a collaborative effort of DuPage High School District 88 and local businesses to connect education leaders and business owners and support students and the community. As partners recognized a growing need to connect with families, ARC evolved, according to Barbanente.

“Today, ARC is a network of businesses, schools, social services providers, nonprofits, government agencies, and others. Together, they identify systems and approaches that use Addison’s strengths to promote health for all.”

Addison Public Library plays key role

The library has been a key connector for residents seeking resources, including teens in search of free mental health counseling. There’s also a full-time librarian dedicated to business owners and people seeking employment, and Addison’s library is the first in the state accredited to provide immigration services.

“Through ARC, we’ve been able to pull together our resources and work collaboratively to create and achieve our shared goals for the community,” said Elizabeth Lynch, head of teen services at Addison Public Library.

Today, more than 40 percent of Addison residents are Hispanic, and one-third were born outside the United States.  Recognizing this evolution in the community, Addison is an environment that supports residents marginalized by racism and discrimination. Students of District 88 are creating a more inclusive school environment through the Youth Equity Stewardship (YES!) program, for example by hosting a school safety forum where students could bring their concerns and launching a student-led news channel. And Padres Latinos en Acción (Latino Parents in Action) has taken steps to uplift their culture in the community and raise money for student scholarships.

Workforce development committee forms

With a view toward the future, Addison has recognized changing workforce needs. The village is home to a large industrial park, but changes in technology have raised the level of training required for employment, leaving many Addison residents behind and creating a challenging labor shortage for local business owners. To ensure residents can access the well-paying jobs available in their hometown and businesses can fill them, Mayor Veenstra formed a workforce development committee that is creating pathways to employment. One initiative focuses on apprenticing residents at local businesses.

“In many ways, Addison is making the most of its resources and making sure residents benefit from them — winning the Culture of Health Prize underscores the point,” said Veenstra. “Embracing a Culture of Health in any community requires a commitment to inclusion, to a shared vision, to teamwork, and to caring for the needs of all its residents. It redefines the true meaning of ‘community.’”


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