By Cheri Pies, MSW, DrPH
Clinical Professor, MCH Program, DrPH Program, MSW/MPH Concurrent and Dual Degree Programs and Principal Investigator, Best Babies Zone Initiative
Shannon Merrell, MPH(c)
Graduate Student Researcher
The Best Babies Zone (BBZ) Initiative, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is a national, multisector place-based initiative working toward improving birth outcomes and reducing infant mortality and preterm birth through community driven strategies that achieve community transformation. We plan to reach these goals on the ground in partnership with community residents and organizational partners by mobilizing community power, engaging the support and collaboration of partners in the education and early care, economic development, and community systems sectors in small geographic areas we call "zones" and working with these organizational partners to achieve collective impact. The three Best Babies Zones are located in Price Hill in Cincinnati, OH; Hollygrove in New Orleans, LA; and the Castlemont neighborhood in Oakland, CA.
The first two years of the BBZ Initiative included identifying the zone, developing meaningful connections and trust with community residents and local partners, and initiating community driven action projects. The BBZ teams have focused their work on the unique needs identified in each zone. In Oakland, economic development was one of the key priorities highlighted for the zone. To address this, staff and community members created the monthly Castlemont Community Market. The market, which began in December 2013 with only two vendors, is now thriving with 19 vendors. More than 230 people have visited the market since it began and a total of $1,600 dollars have been circulated in the local economy. In its third year, Castlemont has continued to address economic development and resident engagement in local programs by providing seed funding to residents to start local projects that address each of the community's priority areas of education, community building, safety and violence, and economic development.
In Price Hill, the BBZ team worked with local moms to create and establish the Price Hill Moms Groups to offer services and resources to pregnant and parenting mothers in Price Hill. These monthly groups offer neighborhood women an opportunity to build social support, and participate in educational sessions about pregnancy, parenting and healthy eating. Participants celebrate motherhood, learn about their health, and prepare for the birth of their babies. BBZ Price Hill also has partnered with other local projects to establish a block captains project where community liaisons go door-to-door to talk with and connect their Price Hill neighbors with essential health, early child education and economic resources with the goal of building local leadership, knowledge, skills, and trust within the community.
The Hollygrove team has spent considerable time establishing a presence within the zone as well as building credibility and trust. In order to cultivate a sense of community and encourage resident involvement in zone activities, BBZ Hollygrove worked with local law enforcement and the Community Development Corporation to address resident concerns about public safety, blighted housing and violence. BBZ Hollygrove staff also partnered with several local organizations to host a Play Streets event promoting physical activity and healthy eating for Hollygrove families. BBZ Hollygrove also hosted a Community Conversations meeting that gave residents an opportunity to talk candidly about the needs in their community and the challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis to live "healthy lives." In addition, the BBZ Hollygrove team is working with Tulane University to conduct baseline air and soil sample tests in the zone to determine possible levels of exposure to toxins and particles that could contribute to poor health outcomes.
In addition to the activities in each of the zones, the BBZ Initiative team is partnering with Harder + Co Community Research to conduct an evaluation of the Initiative. One part of the evaluation is a community initiative survey that is currently being conducted in each of the zones. The data from these surveys will provide a baseline of information from community residents about the social determinants of health and their experiences living in the zone and help to identify new projects and future directions for each of the zones.
When it comes to reducing infant mortality, improving health and health outcomes means more than providing quality health care. Over the past three years, the BBZ teams have found that this work is not a linear path and that achieving results takes time, patience, a long view, and dedicated staff, community residents and local and national organizations. Working closely with AMCHP, CityMatCH and National Healthy Start Association has been pivotal to the practice, program, and policy work of BBZ. With our third grant-year ending in February 2015, the BBZ team is actively pursuing further funding. If you are interested in learning more about BBZ please visit our website bestbabieszone.org or check us out on Facebook at Best Babies Zone.