My wife, Haley, and I permanently moved back to Colorado from Washington State just over four years ago. We promptly bought a house and have lived in the Sunnyside neighborhood ever since. Since the big move, we’ve developed deep roots in our community—we have great relationships with our neighbors, connections to our community institutions, and some of our dearest friends within walking distance. Although we’ve built a strong community in many of the places we’ve lived over the years, this time it feels different, mostly because we know we aren’t going anywhere.
Something special begins to happen when you have a long commitment to cultivating relationships and community in a specific locale. At the same time we were making our transition back to Denver, I started working—and building relationships with communities—at CCMU. In these past four years, our community approach has been one of building personal connections and deep roots in communities across the state.
Early on, I identified the Eastern Plains as a top priority for CCMU’s community engagement work, as there was both a gap in the area’s representation in statewide conversations and a gap in our understanding of their community health goals. Since 2012, when I first met with leaders in Sterling and Evans, CCMU staff members have traveled numerous times to communities across the Eastern Plains, including back to Evans and Sterling, but also to Lamar, La Junta, Yuma, Limon, and Trinidad. Our top priority for these trips was simply to listen, but we also offered support to local health systems change efforts and, when possible, attempted to link local health collaboratives to similar initiatives around the state. This relational approach to community engagement is resource-intensive and takes time, but the results can be powerful.
Last week, we hosted a community meeting with health and community leaders from across the Eastern Plains. Finally, after three years of work building relationships and developing an authentic understanding of the landscape and culture of these communities, a pivotal moment had arrived. With all the right people in the room, the group began to formulate a common vision for collaborative health change in the region, and articulated concrete action steps to realize their shared vision. It was a powerful breakthrough, and one sure to have lasting effects.
I believe we’ve made the progress we have because it’s clear we’re in it for the long haul. One of the top strategies identified in our meeting last week is to go out to these communities again and meet with leaders face-to-face in the coming months. We continue to be committed to building these relationships, supporting the priorities of community leaders, listening to their concerns and aspirations, and lending technical assistance where it’s needed. Hopefully in a few years we’ll be able to say we have deep organizational roots in communities across the Eastern Plains, and that together, we’re making progress toward local health systems that meet the needs of all Colorado residents.