Nov. 21 was National Rural Health Day – a day to celebrate the grit and ingenuity of rural communities like Wilkes County. It was a time to give thanks to tireless and selfless rural healthcare providers, community health workers, health educators, public servants and others who work to keep our community healthy and livable.

It’s no secret that rural communities face their own set of specific challenges when it comes to health. Southern Appalachia specifically faces some of the toughest public health challenges in the nation. From geographic isolation to poverty to health literacy, there are many barriers that face both our community and rural populations as a whole, yet communities are responsible for their own health.

We want to encourage everyone to consider that health is much more than just the sum of an individual’s choices. Many things impact health that lie outside the control of any one person. These factors exist at the levels of our society, environment, cultural norms, and policies.

To truly make strides in rural health, we must find ways to make systematic changes at each of these levels to make being healthy a realistic notion in communities like ours.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating a healthy community, so the most important aspect of any strategy is that it considers the specific needs of the population. The most successful community health programs are those that are championed by the community itself. It takes “the village.”

In Wilkes, we have groups of people working hard on the issues facing this community. These groups and individuals should be recognized for their efforts.

The Yadkin River Greenway continues to be expanded, making for more space to bike, walk, and run without risks to recreationalists from vehicles.

The Wilkes Opioid Response Program, a community collaborative led by Project Lazarus, spent this year identifying community needs and key strategies to address substance use disorder in Wilkes County.

Funding was approved and work started on the much-needed Shirley B. Randleman behavioral and mental health crisis center at Synergy Recovery in North Wilkesboro in partnership with Vaya Health, providing a previously unavailable service to our community.

The Wilkes Health Department continues to serve the community as a Federally Qualified Health Center allowing Wilkes County residents who are uninsured or underinsured to receive affordable medical care and mental health services.

Wilkes Fresh mobile market, an initiative of The Health Foundation, was launched this summer to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to low-resourced communities and provides free and low-cost options to those in need. These are just a few examples of the ongoing work to respond to the needs of our community.

While the work to bridge the gaps in rural health in Wilkes is ongoing, let’s remember to celebrate our progress this year and continue to look for opportunities to improve the health of our community in the future. Salud!

FRED WELLS BRASON, JANE CASAREZ, ALLY CLONCH AND PROJECT LAZARUS TEAM

Moravian Falls, N.C.

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