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, Brooks County, Morris County and Nacogdoches 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 Victoria County. The Be Well Victoria Collaborative, created with support from the Victoria County Public Health Department (VCPHD), is harnessing the resources and collective wisdom of an impressive array of community partners to engage traditionally excluded groups.
Although the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) County Health Rankings, which aggregate health indicators across 242 Texas counties, place Victoria County at 135 for health factors, their ranking falls to 176 for social and economic factors and 169 for physical environment. Large ranking numbers (e.g., 242) indicate poor conditions and high ranking numbers (e.g., 1) indicate strong conditions.
Statistics show that the frequency of mental distress among Victoria County residents is higher than the state average, while the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has designated the county a medically underserved area.
Last year, Victoria County’s proximity to the coast made its outlying communities particularly vulnerable to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Two unincorporated towns that fall under the umbrella of Be Well Victoria’s efforts, Bloomington and Placedo, sustained critical damage to housing, education and infrastructure. Additionally, a combined total of 35 percent of residents were displaced.
When Hurricane Harvey hit, VCPHD joined forces with the Victoria Community Health Center (VCHC) to keep medical services going throughout and after the storm. “The community mobilization and response to Harvey demonstrates the leadership and effectiveness of VCPHD and its integral partners,” Rick Ybarra, Hogg Foundation program officer, says.
The Be Well Victoria collaborative plans to keep the momentum going by promoting participation from isolated community members and the local organizations serving them. It will leverage VCPHD’s public health knowledge and community ties to create a planning process that makes the development of a community collaborative more inclusive and representative of the community.
“We have more knowledge regarding the long-term effects of trauma and the impacts of resilient mental health than ever before,” Bethany Castro, Executive Director of Perpetual Help Home and Chair of Be Well Victoria, says. “Because we know more, we need to do more. We need to ensure the stressors for our community are alleviated, or that resources are in place to ensure people have avenues to get help.”
With the help of outreach by community health workers to historically excluded groups, the collaborative will identify gaps and disparities and propose implementation strategies to improve resilience, mental health and well-being in Victoria County. According to Castro, a project that “starts with the people” ensures buy-in from community members “by design” — and in Be Well Victoria, the enthusiasm is already palpable.
“It has been so exciting to see the community amped up about enacting change,” Castro says. “Change they want, change hey need, and change they are going to take charge of!”