West Virginia has among the worst health indicators in the United States, including high rates of obesity, drug overdose, and tobacco smoking. To improve health behaviors, Future Generations Rural America trains local leaders as Community Health Workers (CHWs).

In southern West Virginia, five community-based organizations sponsor staff and volunteers to serve as CHWs. CHWs are mobilizing community members to design projects to meet local health priorities. Projects are diverse and locally focused, maximizing opportunities to engage community networks. Current activities range from martial arts for self-esteem and physical fitness to partnerships for the prevention of prescription drug abuse.

As a first task, CHWs organize Community Health Advisory Councils. Community Health Advisory Councils identify existing strengths and opportunities in their communities to address local health priorities. Each Advisory Council has a shared mission to guide a local workplan and mobilize community support. Here two examples:

Big Creek People in Action, McDowell County: The Big Creek District Healthy Lifestyles Council believes that the citizens of the Big Creek District want to lead healthy, happy, and productive lives and that children need a nurturing recreational environment. We coordinate educational workshops and events on health topics and work to improve access to recreational areas for children and families because citizens are our greatest assets and children are our future.

Upper Laurel Fire and Ambulance Service, Wyoming County: Wyoming Warriors for Wellness is dedicated to increasing the health and physical fitness of fire fighters, EMS personnel, and administrative staff. Our workplace wellness program encourages and assists our volunteers, staff, and community members to adopt healthier behaviors that reduce their risk for preventable diseases and disabilities.

CHWs meet every other month to learn new skills and from each other’s experiences. Future Generations Rural America provides workshops and technical assistance, including a recent seminar on project evaluation and the role of advisory councils. 

Partner organizations include the West Virginia University School of Nursing, Eastern Division and the West Virginia Partnership of African American Churches.

While clinical services exist, many diseases and disabilities can be prevented. Each of these projects expands access to health resources and information to help community members live healthier lifestyles and overcome barriers to making healthy choices. This program is fully funded by a $444,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Health Care Services Outreach Grant Program.

For more information, contact:

Nicky Bassford, Project Manager
ph. 304-358-2000