A Community-Led Collaborative Moves Forward
The name Falfurrias roughly translates to “Land of Heart’s Delight” in Lupin Apache. As the county seat of Brooks County, Falfurrias is perhaps best known for producing a legendary brand of butter. The Falfurrias Butter creamery, which dates back to 1909, is currently the headquarters of the Falfurrias Facts, the town newspaper and another local institution.
But beyond such trivia, Falfurrias is also nestled in a region whose unique geography and culture make it an ideal candidate for place-based approaches to improving mental health and well-being. Located in far south Texas, Brooks County lies about an hour north of the border with Mexico.
More rural than the bustling Rio Grande Valley, the area has fewer job opportunities, a child poverty rate close to sixty percent and a declining population. In addition, Brooks County has historically been listed as a health professional shortage area. Challenging social conditions such as these have inevitably led to health disparities and poorer mental health outcomes for Brooks County residents in comparison to other Texans.
Inside this story:
- Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities grant partner, Behavioral Health Outreach and Leadership Development Project (BHOLD), is transitioning from an initial planning phase to a phase of project implementation.
- Having established a robust and inclusive collaborative that reflects Brooks County’s historically underrepresented population, BHOLD is implementing programs based on a strategic plan developed at the community level.
- Community engagement and momentum continues to grow.
Brooks County population that is Hispanic or Latinx
Yet, despite these obstacles, the community is focused on a future of possibility. With a population that is 91 percent Hispanic or Latinx and more than 66 percent of households speaking a language other than English, Brooks County is a rich testament to Hispanic history and culture. Now, having developed a robust and inclusive community collaborative that reflects the county’s diverse and historically underrepresented population, Brooks County residents are finding inspiring and effective ways to support and strengthen their mental health and well-being.
Behavioral Health Outreach and Leadership Development
In 2018, with an emphasis on addressing the upstream, or root causes, of poor mental health at the community level,the Hogg Foundation established the Collaborative Approaches to Well-Being in Rural Communities (WRC) initiative. Recognizing that community-based approaches help make a lasting transformation to mental health and well-being, the Hogg Foundation, through the WRC, awarded $410,000 to the Community Action Corporation of South Texas (CACOST) in support of its Behavioral Health Outreach and Leadership Development Project (BHOLD).
“The community voice is all over the Behavioral Health Outreach and Leadership Development Project (BHOLD),” says April Anzaldua, director of community services and development at the Community Action Corporation of South Texas. In her four yours of involvement with BHOLD, she has helped Brooks County navigate a range of complex issues that cut across sectors: youth mental health, investments in health and nutrition, and nurturing the next generation of leaders chief among them.
“The community voice is all over this project. We wouldn’t be doing the things we’re doing right now had it not been for their input.”
Phase I: Planning
For the first three years under the leadership of Erica Woodruff as program coordinator, BHOLD focused primarily on assessing needs, determining priorities, and planning for future programming. One of its first major undertakings was creating a bilingual Community Needs Assessment survey and distributing it widely. Their efforts paid off and community participation was high.
The results of the survey gave BHOLD a clearer understanding of Brooks County residents’ concerns and previous experiences regarding access to educational opportunities, affordable housing, adequate health care, safe jobs, quality childcare and reliable transportation. It also identified a desire to address the high use of drugs among residents and the lack of community social events and cultural opportunities.
“We received over 1,000 surveys in a county of only 7,000 residents,” says April. “Their voices were absolutely heard which helped set our foundation for the strategic plan.”
Community Needs Assessment surveys completed in a county of only 7,000 residents
Following the assessment, BHOLD continued to encourage community input as the project progressed.
“When we got down to prioritizing what was most important, we had a large community event,” says April. “Over 200 people came out and worked on activities that established where the priorities should be for our strategic plan.”
Ultimately, the strategic plan led to five main initiatives: Developing our Community, Supporting Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Accessing Health Care, Improving Mental Health and Well-Being, and Preventing Substance Use.
Phase 2: Implementation
Last year, BHOLD transitioned to WRC’s second phase: implementation. Some of the initial projects include publishing a mental health care resource guide to increase awareness of available services in Brooks County, holding mental health first aid public events, and developing a summer internship program for teens that focused on the strategic goal of ‘Supporting Leaders for Today and Tomorrow.’
As one of five interns in the Summer Leadership Program, Brianna Reyes was matched with a professional mentor and spent time observing nurses and doctors at a medical clinic.
“My internship most definitely benefited me,”
“I wanted to learn more about possible jobs in the medical field,” she says. “My internship most definitely benefitted me. I feel like it also made me more sociable and [a better communicator]. I know I’ll need those communication skills applying to jobs and working.”
Internship requirements included weekly attendance at respective internship sites, in-person attendance at workshops and leadership training, and a storyboard presentation of their internship experience at a BHOLD meeting.
Another BHOLD project currently in the works aims to address the ‘Developing our Community’ strategic goal. After gathering input from more than 150 residents in an underserved area of the county, plans are being made to construct a walking trail surrounded by fruit-bearing trees and health promotion signage.
BHOLD was given a sense of the walking trail’s potential impact thanks to a public event held this summer at Lopez Park in Falfurrias. The event was a hit: community members enjoyed music and free food while learning more about the collaborative. It was also an opportunity to promote the future site of the walking trail, with over 230 surveys collected that established a baseline for the current health and nutrition of the community members that live in the area.
BHOLD has recently transitioned to new leadership after four productive years with Woodruff at the helm. Anzaldua has no doubt that the collaborative’s momentum will be sustained in the years to come.
About BHOLD’s new program coordinator, Crystal Garcia, April says, “She’s coming on full swing. She’s a local business owner, born and raised here, and has been with us since the get-go. She’s probably only missed a meeting or two in the past five years!”
Garcia is actively cultivating greater community participation, and attendance at BHOLD’s monthly meetings has already increased.
“I think with this new move getting a community member to be spearheading the coalition, we’re absolutely headed in the right direction,” says April. “I think it was our springboard for momentum.”