Falfurrias Butter building

The iconic Falfurrias Butter sign, visible from Highway 285, is an artifact of Brooks County’s past. Falfurrias Butter originated in the county thanks to Ed Lassater’s 1909 purchase of one of the largest herd of Jersey cattle in the country. While the creamery now houses the Falfurrias newspaper, the butter is still made in Texas. You can thank the town’s iconic export for its high school mascot: a Jersey Cow. Photo credit: Aaron Stidwell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This is a series spotlighting the grantees of the Hogg Foundation’s Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities initiative. Check out others in this series on the good work happening in Bastrop County, Morris County, Nacogdoches County and Victoria County.

In July 2018, the Hogg Foundation  awarded $4.5 million  across six grantees of the  Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities  (WRC) initiative. One grantee,  Alliance for Greater Works, received funds to coordinate the initiative, and the other five—all in rural Texas counties—are using the funding to develop or build upon an existing collaborative to strengthen resilience, mental health and well-being in their communities.  

Through this project, we seek to address  the  community conditions that contribute to mental health disparities  and the significant  inequities that exist in Texas,  and leverage the power of inclusivity and shared decision-making to create and implement community-driven solutions. It’s a tall order, thus, we’ve given each collaborative three years to assess their community’s needs and assets, build new relationships, and identify strategies that lead to better mental health for everyone in their community. The grantees are in the first of these three years.  

Today, we’re spotlighting one of the five community collaboratives, located in Brooks County. Conceived by the Community Action Corporation of South Texas (CACOST), which ultimately aims to replicate project successes in the 16 counties it serves, the Behavioral and Health Outreach Leadership Development (BHOLD) Collaborative will deploy engagement strategies that, in crossing socio-demographic lines and uniting participants’ interests, foster a supporting “culture of community.”  

The Need 

Nearly 40 percent of Brooks County adults report living with poor or failing health, and of the 242 Texas counties listed in Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) County Health Rankings, Brooks County’s overall health outcomes rank second-to-last at 240. In addition to being designated a Health Professional Shortage Area by the Health Resources and Services Administration—meaning mental health professionals are scarce—data on community mental health conditions in general is sorely lacking.  

Brooks County lacks critical services and supports. At present, limited public transportation options exist for the people of Brooks County. Supports such as childcare services in the area are lacking as well. There is limited employment and educational opportunity, as well as a lack of access to health care and specialty care.  

Lags and inconsistencies in data collection, particularly on mental health and well-being, exist across many sectors, making it difficult to trace health and life outcomes to verifiable root causes. Surveys of residents, elected officials, community-based organizations and other groups reveal a critical lack of consensus on top-priority community needs, reflecting the need for a more thoughtful and strategic approach.  

The Vision  

With a population that is more than 90 percent Hispanic, and with more than 66 percent of households speaking a language other than English at home, Brooks County has much to gain from developing a robust and inclusive community collaborative that reflects the county’s diverse and historically underrepresented population.  

“Despite the data on Brooks County rankings, the BHOLD Collaborative is focused on the possibilities, not the limitations,” Hogg Foundation program officer Rick Ybarra says. “To see and feel their passion and BHOLD’s commitment to improving the health and well-being the people of Brooks County is truly awe-inspiring.”  

Using participatory and culturally competent approaches, the BHOLD Collaborative will bring together community members to identify and fill the existing gaps in mental health data. Beginning with the formation of a Stakeholder Advisory Council that will initiate cross-sector dialogue, the process will eventually expand to include community forums, qualitative interviews, and other data-gathering strategies.  

The BHOLD Collaborative has also partnered with Brooks County Independent School District to offer free transportation, meals and childcare during collaborative gatherings at no cost to community members.  

“The community has really come together filled with hope and excitement about the future of Brooks County,” CACOST Director of Community Services and Development April Anzaldua says. “It has been quite moving to see community members inspiring other members to come out and have a voice in their community.”