Community collaboratives have become central to the Hogg Foundation’s strategic goal of changing the patterns of poor mental health across Texas. Two cornerstone initiatives, Communities of Care and Collaborative Approaches to Well-being in Rural Communities, recently wrapped up the first and second years, respectively, of their activities. As these two initiatives move into their next year and reflect on progress to date, it is important to look back on lessons learned and opportunities for growth in the future.

Communities of Care: Year One Reflections

Year 1 of Communities of Care (COC) offered good progress in learning about the strengths and challenges within each of the funded collaborative groups. Understanding the need for upstream, primary prevention strategies can be challenging for grantees/collaboratives who are accustomed to focusing on services and programs to address mental health.

While the goal of COC—to support communities in their efforts to inclusively and collaboratively cultivate resiliency, mental health equity, and well-being in everyday life for all members of the community, with a specific focus on children and youth of color and their families—remains constant, COC has refined what this means to emphasize five core principles:

Understand the Community Environment. Gathering data to understand how the places we live, work, learn, play, and pray impact community health and well-being

Imagine One Community. Encouraging an inclusive and collaborative way of working and making decisions together that is fair and open to all voices

Talk about and Act on Health Justice. Dialogues about how race and racism result in unfair differences in community well-being and actions to reverse and counteract those unfair outcomes.

Provide Opportunities for Ongoing Learning. Improving knowledge and skills to implement actions in the places where we live, work, learn, play, and pray that will improve community well-being.

Improve Community Well-Being. Using data and lived experiences to inform actions that will improve community well-being

These values reflect a vision that is less connected to the goals and strategies included in the grantees’ original grant proposals, but are nonetheless essential to achieving the initiative’s overarching goal. These values can be a fulcrum to lift the work across all collaboratives toward upstream, equity-oriented community prevention strategies for mental well-being. We will continue to work with Communities of Care to facilitate ongoing discussions and actions towards adoption of these principles in Years 2-5. It is the nature of the non-profit community and service providers to prioritize service-oriented solutions. As the needs of the broader learning community and each collaborative became clearer, we furthered our understanding of this issue in the context of Communities of Care.

Engagement and relationship-building will continue to be a focus as grantees move from planning into implementation in Year 2 and beyond.

Collaborative Approaches to Well-being in Rural Communities: Year Two Reflections

Two years into the project, the Collaborative Approaches to Well-being in Rural Communities (WRC) collaboratives have developed their own identities and brands and become “go-to” organizations for their communities and counties. The collaboratives also continue to develop and mature their memberships while working to ensure the inclusion into leadership roles of historically excluded members.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, WRC collaboratives have taken leadership roles, built COVID resources on existing websites, and converted to virtual platforms to maintain collaborative meetings and local community engagement. Most importantly, they mobilized and leveraged their greatest asset: the community. Many of the collaborative members serve as volunteers and support local community service agencies to address community needs, as well as engage in local advocacy in their respective communities.

As WRC enters its third (and final) year, the following key lessons have come to the forefront:

The reality of fluidity. The work of community and systems-level change to support mental health, resiliency and well-being is fluid and dynamic. Each community and system operate at its own tempo and rhythm.

The need for time. Community based work takes time. Lots and lots of time. From creating effective messaging, community outreach and engagement, informing and educating the communities about the project, inviting persons to share their opinions, soliciting feedback, creating trusting spaces for people whose voices historically have not been heard, and building relationships. All of this takes time.

Storming and forming. Year 1 was what we would refer to as the “storming and forming process” for any new group convening. The most critical process was building trust among the community members. Year 2 was dedicated to engaging the community about the project, recruiting new members and community partners, all while addressing the history of mistrust and building trust.

Network versus coalition or collaborative. A network and a coalition or collaborative are very different. Most convenings are networks: individuals or organization representatives coming together, sharing ideas, information/announcements, but afterwards returning to their perspective worlds. A coalition or collaborative is a network with a common agenda and leadership, and a commitment to shared learning and resources. Our five grant community partners truly understand this.

Upstream approach versus downstream. Understanding the rationale for upstream, primary prevention strategies and long-range planning can be particularly difficult for grantees/collaboratives who are accustomed to focusing on services and programs. It demands a greater openness to relationship-building, a commitment to a longer time horizon than is typical of most grant programs, and it challenges communities to really address the root causes of health inequities.

Engagement and relationship-building, and completing their common agenda will continue to be a focus for WRC grantees going into Year 3.


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