Lake County Awarded 2019 Culture of Health Prize

Colorado Mountain COllege Leadville campus at the base of Mount Elbert

Lake County, Colorado recognized for community initiatives, awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s prize

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has selected Lake County as one of five communities across the United States to receive its 2019 Culture of Health Prize. This prestigious award recognizes the efforts of Lake County organizations like Lake County Build a Generation, Get Outdoors Leadville!, Full Circle of Lake County and Colorado Mountain College, in their ongoing efforts to enhance the lives of citizens through community health initiatives.

In addition to Lake County, the prize recognizes and celebrates the work of four other communities in the U.S.: Broward County, Florida; Gonzales, California; Greenville County, South Carolina; and Sitka, Alaska. Lake County is the first community in Colorado to receive this national recognition.

Collaboration is critical to building a culture of health in any community and the Lake County story fulfills the collective criteria. The Leadville community works together to identify and address local issues, while including local organizations and residents in the conversation.

Lake County Build a Generation

Lake County Build a Generation, a local non-profit that is building a movement for health and well-being in Leadville, coordinates many of the health equity efforts in the county. The organization uses a collective impact model to provide planning, community engagement, collaboration and evaluation support to community health initiatives. Their approach strategically connects the dots between issues and actions, and provides a structure for accountability.

“In Lake County, there are so many resources available to build a healthy community,” says Katie Baldassar, executive director of Lake County Build a Generation, “But because of systemic inequities, those resources aren’t equally available to everyone.”

Lake County Build a Generation has been the catalyst behind initiatives such as Get Outdoors Leadville!, and the Family Leadership Training Institute, working with community groups to take action. Though community groups are an important element of sparking and supporting change, it’s the citizens that are the true face of this movement.

Students in the Wilderness Experience program at CMC Leadville learn essential backpacking skills.
Students in the Wilderness Experience program, made possible by Get Outdoors Leadville! and Colorado Mountain College, learn essential wilderness skills on a backpacking trip.

Get Outdoors Leadville!

The community collectively empowers local leaders in historically underrepresented demographics like youth, recent immigrants and residents who do not speak English as their primary language.

“Part of the pipeline to leadership is professionalizing [youths’] strengths and their contributions,” says Erin Allaman, associate professor of teacher education at Colorado Mountain College Leadville.

Brayhan Reveles, a Colorado Mountain College student and Healthy Eating/ Active Living coordinator at Lake County Build a Generation, is a praiseworthy example of youth empowerment. Together with his mother, Cristina Reveles, the family played a key role in launching Get Outdoors Leadville!, or GOL!, an initiative to increase access to outdoor education and recreation opportunities for youth in Lake County.

The committee responsible for creating Get Outdoors Leadville! included outreach by youth and Spanish-speaking community liaisons who collected feedback from citizens. Together, they identified issues like cultural exclusion, lack of gear and transportation as major obstacles preventing local youth from connecting with the natural world.

GOL! works with the community to develop solutions to these issues; creating a public gear library and implementing outdoor learning opportunities into school curriculums, like the Wilderness Experience course at Colorado Mountain College.

Colorado Mountain COllege Leadville campus at the base of Mount ElbertColorado Mountain College

The wilderness experience class, is a program for Lake County High School students participating in CMC’s concurrent enrollment program. Students participate in outdoor activities that focus on building leadership and communication skills, through team-building exercises. They apply these skills in college level courses, like the canyon orientation course in the outdoor recreation leadership program at CMC. Students spend six days backpacking in remote wilderness areas while learning hands-on skills specific to canyon environments.

Students in the Leadville Wilderness Experience class put their backcountry skills to work on a recent hut trip.
Students in the Leadville wilderness experience class put their backcountry skills to work on a hut trip.

“The most rewarding part is working with Lake County students and being able to share with them outdoor adventure and experiences,” says Becca Katz, the community learning director for Lake County School District and Get Outdoors Leadville!, “We help them grow as leaders and community members and support them in realizing that the outdoors is for them and for everyone.”

The concurrent enrollment program at Colorado Mountain College has created additional opportunities for Lake County’s high school students to empower youth through education. Through the Colorado Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act (CEPA), students earn college and high school credits simultaneously, at no cost to them.

“The school paid for the classes, and I was able to enroll at no cost,” says Isela Saucedo, a concurrent enrollment student who graduated from Colorado Mountain College in May 2018 with an Associate of Arts degree. “It was a great opportunity to get a head start and take college classes.”

Like many Lake County High School students, Isela was a first generation college student. Without first-hand higher education experience, Isela’s parents were unable to help her navigate the world of financial aid, scholarship applications or the transfer process when the time came for her to continue her education at Colorado Mesa University.

“But CMC was there to help me along the way,” says Isela, who, up until her CMC graduation in 2018, had lived in Leadville her entire life.  “As a first generation Hispanic student I want to prove that going to college and having a career is possible regardless of financial status or ethnicity. At Colorado Mountain College I was able to do this without student loans.”

In addition to earning credits for commonly required college courses like English and math, students can explore other interests within CMC’s certificate programs. Students acquire skills and earn certificates in Basic Welding & Cutting, Welding Design and Fabrication, Basic Culinary Skills, and Early Childhood Education.

Full Circle of Lake County

The Latinx community makes up about a third of Lake County’s population. Since identifying that access, cultural exclusion and language barriers were hindering the Latinx community from voicing concerns, Lake County organizations worked together to address these issues.

Full Circle of Lake County, a family-oriented non-profit with a focus on youth development and health equity, collaborated with Lake County Build a Generation to create the Family Leadership Training Institute. The 20-week civic engagement program helped residents plan neighborhood improvement projects with guidance from local nonprofits and government agencies. Residents tackled fire safety concerns, playground access and safer pedestrian solutions.

According to Cristina Reveles, a lot of families didn’t feel comfortable voicing their concerns. “They didn’t know how or where to go. Now they do.”

Harnessing the collective power

The RWJF Culture of Health Prize honors and elevates U.S. communities that are making great strides toward improving health equity. In Lake County, the ‘we’re all in this together’ mindset is collectively moving the community from challenges to solutions.

Together organizations like Lake County Build a Generation, Get Outdoors Leadville!, Full Circle of Lake County and Colorado Mountain College are harnessing their collective power. Leaders are listening and community members are heard. Data is collected, strategic plans are put in place, and issues are addressed.

“The people of our community,” says Lake County Build a Generation’s Katie Baldassar, “are entirely capable of figuring out what’s working and what needs to change to make Lake County a place where all community members — regardless of neighborhood, ethnicity or income —can live our healthiest life.”

Learn more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the 2019 Culture of Health Prize winners at www.rwjf.org.

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