This column was originally published by the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) on June 5th, 2015. To view the original article, click here.

By KavKavya Sekarya Sekar

Kavya Sekar is Master of Public Policy Candidate at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy. She recently served as the Mel King Institute (MKI) Program Coordinator with the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, coordinating trainings, forums and programs to boost skills, knowledge and leadership of community development professionals in Massachusetts. She is a 2013 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill with a double major in Biology and Anthropology. During college, she was extensively involved in social justice initiatives around homelessness and poverty as well as public health research on nutritional issues in the United States and India. Before working at MKI, Kavya served as a Fulbright-Nehru research student fellow in India, studying the health behavior and access of Type II diabetes patients among low-income and slum communities in Mumbai. In her recent role with the Mel King Institute, Kavya used her public health research background to boost community development and public health partnerships in Massachusetts by coordinating a training series, convening health and community development leaders, conducting research, and writing editorial content on health and community development.

When I started my role at MACDC back in September, one of the first events I attended was our Innovation Forum “How Can We Better Leverage the Health Impact of Community Development?” With my background in public health, I was excited to connect the dots between my previous work and my current role in community development. I decided to move away from public health, in part, to learn more about economic and structural inequalities, so it was important to be reminded that “a person’s zip code has a greater impact on a person’s health than his or her genetic code.”

With my background and interest in health, I am helping develop training programs on community development and health for The Mel King Institute. As a part of this process, I explored CDC websites to look for health related programs. What I found was somewhat disappointing: while CDCs are doing work that helps improve the health of their communities, very few are talking about it. Housing, economic development and community building all have a positive health impact and here’s why we should tell the world:

  • It tells a compelling story: In a Rooflines blog post, Jonathan Reckford of Habitat for Humanity writes about how moving into a safe mold-free home helped stop a young boy’s asthmatic seizures. Stories like these can help the general public understand the real importance and urgency of providing safe and affordable housing to save lives.
  • There is plenty of evidence to support your claims: In the recent “The Health Impact of the Community Investment Tax Credit” report, Health Resource in Action, MAPC and MADPH use evidence from the latest public health research to show how CDC activities are linked to better health outcomes. Using the conclusions from this report, community developers can confidently speak about the health impact of their work and reference research to support their claims.
  • It could lead to new partners: Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, nonprofit hospitals are now required to conduct Community Health Needs Assessments that “take into account input from persons who represent the broad interests of the community served by the hospital…including those with special knowledge of or expertise in public health, and is made widely available to the public.” Based on their findings, hospitals must adopt an implementation strategy to meet community public health needs at least once every three years. As community organizations, CDCs can play a major role in helping hospitals understand community needs, develop plans to meet those needs and implement solutions. Openly communicating your organization’s commitment to and impact on health can help hospitals see your organization as a potential partner.
  • It could lead to new resources: As health-related funding agencies and organizations have become more aware of the social determinants of health, there is movement towards supporting healthy neighborhoods. For instance, Madison Park Community Development Corporation has a grant from the Boston Public Health Commission for programs to reduce youth violence. CDCs all over the state receive donations from hospitals and healthcare centers. Communicating the health impact of your work can help attract these sources of funding and, therefore, leverage your work to meet the mission of health organizations.
  • It helps us move beyond our silos: Ultimately community development and health organizations have a common goal: to promote the overall well-being of people and communities. Poor health leads to poverty and poverty leads to poor health. By acknowledging this linkage and working together, we can move the needle on addressing the major health and economic inequalities in our society.

CDCs are already improving people’s health on a daily basis. By articulating the health impact of your organization, you can offer a more compelling story about your organization, access more resources, and ultimately have a bigger impact on the communities and families you serve.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.