North Wilkesboro-based The Health Foundation Inc. was recently selected to receive a grant as part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, a program funded by the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo).

The Health Foundation is one of 20 teams chosen to participate in the challenge.  The team will receive $100,000 to take action to change the food access systems in Wilkes County and engage community residents as leaders in their work. In addition to the funding, The Health Foundation and their partners will participate in one-on-one technical assistance provided by APHA and NACo and a supportive peer-learning network led by Healthy Places by Design over the course of the two years.

The project team that will lead the initiative in Wilkes County includes staff from The Health Foundation, Healthy Wilkes Action Team, Wilkes Community Partnership for Children, Wilkes County Health Department, Wilkes Family and Wilkes Express YMCA, Town of Wilkesboro, Healthy People/Healthy Carolinas, Second Harvest Food Bank and N.C. Cooperative Extension.

The team will take steps to advance health equity in Wilkes County where individuals are disproportionately impacted by health disparities compared to other counties in North Carolina.

“Access to health care and healthy food, as well as other social determinants of health, can significantly impact rates of chronic disease and other health outcomes, with average life spans varying by up to 20-30 years in communities that are just a few miles apart,” said Eileen Howard Boone, president of the Aetna Foundation. “We are proud to partner with APHA and NACo to support the work of The Health Foundation to drive change and address these social determinants of health – work that is now more important than ever, given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving health equity. “Successful, lasting change comes from cross-sector partnerships and engaging affected individuals and communities, which is why this challenge is so powerful. Together, communities in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge will be able to achieve enduring transformations to public health.”

NACo President Mary Ann Borgeson added, “Counties play an essential role in protecting, promoting, and improving health in our communities across the country. The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge recognizes the positive impact of cross-sector partnerships and offers opportunities for counties to develop innovative approaches to meet residents’ health needs.”

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge will award a total of $2 million to teams of organizations that will work together to change the food access and health care systems in their communities and engage community residents as leaders in their work.

The Aetna Foundation, which first launched the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge in partnership with APHA and NACo in 2016, is an independent, charitable, and philanthropic affiliate of CVS Health.

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