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In February, the millage approved a one-year pilot grant for 5 Healthy Towns Foundation (5HF), a foundation dedicated to improving personal and community wellness in five rural Michigan communities (Chelsea, Dexter, Grass Lake, Manchester and Stockbridge). The $50,000 grant will help 5HF and the One Big Thing (OBT) initiative begin planning community events, hiring a part-time community action team facilitator, and sustaining their work into 2024 and beyond.
5HF partnered with three organizations — Washtenaw County Community Mental Health, Chelsea Hospital, and Michigan Medicine Department of Family Medicine — to launch One Big Thing (now called One Big Connection) in 2019. The project was intended to foster collaboration between the four organizations in support of “one big thing,” to focus on improving the mental health and well-being of their local communities and preventing mental health crises and substance dependence.
The idea of collaboration across multiple organizations, rather than trying to tackle every community issue in isolation, is a focal point of 5HF’s work. Born out of their initial partnership with ReThink Health, 5HF has worked with the millage to promote stewardship — the idea that organizations and community members are simply stewards of various resources, rather than the sole drivers of change.
“Fundamental to 5HF’s work is recognizing that everybody owns a piece of the puzzle. The relationships that exist between our organizations matter,” says Steve Petty 5HF CEO. “Our programs, our people, our existence in the same geographic area are all interrelated. We have to understand our collective purpose within the communities we serve. That is to say that we need to prioritize our purpose in the community, above the purpose of our individual organizations.”
To track progress and outcomes, a logic model was developed in 2022 in order to create objectives for the project. Using the logic model, three short-term goals were established:
Addressing community needs
Three action teams were identified:
To facilitate a more comprehensive approach to mental health care in the community, explains Petty, it is essential to tie in established organizations and individuals that have already been working in the community. As such, each action team is co-chaired by two or three community members.
An action team facilitator, Kimberly Gillow, was hired with millage funds in the summer of 2023.
A community-driven approach
Currently, the three action teams have engaged approximately 20 local organizations, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washtenaw County, local school districts, members of the local wellness coalitions, and Home of New Vision.
“We have great inputs as an organization, but we’re also missing a piece if we don’t take it back to the community and say, ‘Where are you seeing these things show up in the work you do?’ and ‘Is this representative of the type of thing we should prioritize in our work plan?’” says Petty.
To further community involvement in OBT, 5HF has been holding bi-monthly community meetings — in September 2022, November 2022, January 2023, and most recently, April 2023 — where anyone can provide input on the initiatives. According to Petty, the community meetings have three objectives: listen, inform, and start the building process with the community.
5HF’s heavy focus on being community-driven is part of the reason why the organization was initially drawn to the millage in the first place. The millage, Petty explained, is unique in that it was deemed important by the community, who had to vote to approve its existence. Petty described the millage, which works with a plethora of organizations to provide community care, as “an active coalition that’s really changing how we’re dealing with mental health.”
5HF strives to use its community-driven approach to tackle larger community issues beyond just the one-year grant period.
“We don’t want to just communicate with the other resources in the region,” says Lori Kintz, outreach and public relations coordinator for 5HF. “We don’t want to just coordinate and collaborate — we truly want to integrate our services and move upstream so we can prevent mental health crises.”
By 2026, the organization has a number of specific mid-term objectives, some of which are:
OBT’s long-term goals, to reach by June 2028, are:
“At the center of everything we want to achieve … is the idea that people have greater agency, have a deeper sense of purpose, and that we’re mitigating what we’re seeing in terms of social isolation,” Petty says. “Our goal is to support connected, optimistic, resilient, and engaged individuals, families, and communities.”