Activate Allen County keeps Lima healthy

LIMA — Kayla Monfort often hears from residents who feel ignored, so the co-director from Active Allen County started organizing block parties to bring resources to people where they live.

The parties offer bounce houses, live music and free food as an incentive for people to take health assessments or get a referral for health problems that may otherwise go untreated — and rebuild trust between residents and social service agencies.

“Sometimes they don’t want to go to the hospital, or they don’t want to go certain places for services,” Monfort said, “so we bring a lot of those services to them in the form of block parties.”

The community health collaborative formed in 2012 to improve poor health outcomes in Allen County, which has seen its ranking on key health metrics rise from 83rd to 60th out of Ohio’s 88 counties since Activate’s founding.

Monfort and co-director Josh Unterbrink act as liaisons between partner agencies such as Mercy Health, Lima Memorial Health System and Allen County Public Health to implement a community health improvement, which is updated every three years, and track their progress toward meeting those goals.

The plan currently prioritizes access to affordable and safe housing, public transportation, mental and behavioral health services, supports for healthy living and maternal and infant health.

“People may think how healthy you are is basically: If you eat healthy and if you’re active, then you’re healthy,” Monfort said. “But health can be composed of your mental health, your spiritual health.

“Do you have transportation to work? Do you have a healthy place to live? Do you have a roof over your head that’s lead-free and well-maintained? Are you able to access a grocery store?”

Monfort estimates that Activate’s services reach more than 20% of Allen County residents through programs, events and Activated Challenges, or miniature grants.

Activate started as a grant-funded organization but is now fully supported by member organizations based in Allen County, which provides Monfort and Unterbrink more flexibility in deciding which projects to prioritize as the community’s needs change.

“We don’t have to go through all the red tape of the federal government and grant stipulations,” Monfort said. “It makes us more nimble.”

That makes it easier for Monfort and Unterbrink to pivot their attention when data shows emerging trouble.

The duo partnered with local schools to establish peer ambassador programs aimed at dissuading youth from using e-cigarettes in response to data showing 26% of Allen County youth in seventh through 12th grades have used vapor products.

Data showing where overdoses are most prevalent allows Monfort, Unterbrink and partner agencies to distribute overdose-reversal naloxone kits where they’re needed most.

Many people want to live a healthy lifestyle, Monfort said, but they don’t always have access to the resources that make it possible.

“That really impedes people from being as healthy as they want to be and deserve to be, because we all deserve to have the highest quality of life we want,” she said.


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