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Wrestling Together Against Poverty and for Health

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

One word captures the theme of what has been the predominate user of my time and energy – “health.” We each have our own definition of what that word means. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health in a holistic way that resonates with me: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

I often find myself worrying about my physical health as I approach my post-cancer check-ups every three months (I happen to have one of those checkups later this week). Will the disease be absent or present? Yet my resources on healthy and hopeful survivorship remind me daily that health is so much more than the absence of disease and that one can be emotionally and spiritually healthy even when living with a chronic disease.

In our work in Extension, we approach health in many different ways. Some of us address the financial health of individuals, families, and communities; others address physical well-being through work with youth, families, organizations, and communities; still others address the mental well-being of children and historically marginalized communities. A grand challenge for our center rests in addressing health in a more cohesive and less compartmentalized way.

The importance of collaboration hit home last week as I shared the findings of FD’s Employee Engagement Survey with the center. About 55 percent of you said that there is a good cooperation and sharing of ideas between my department and other departments. This finding presents an opportunity for us to foster more work across the center and with other centers in Extension. The Qualey-Skjervold Professional Development Conference coming up July 11 to July 13 — to which we have invited our colleagues from the Center for Community Vitality — offers such an opportunity as it focuses on addressing the grand challenge of poverty in Minnesota. We already know that a compartmentalized approach to poverty will not have lasting effects. The conference will give us a chance to wrestle with how we can work together to address the important issue of poverty, and its critical connection to health.

There's no substitute for gathering around a table and listening carefully to each other.

We are not the only ones focusing on opportunities to cooperate and share ideas around poverty and health. For example, in early April, I along with a team of FD staff participated in the National Health Outreach Conference in Roanoke, VA (formerly Priester Health Extension Conference). One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about “Culture of Health.” This Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) initiative offers a roadmap for improving our nation’s health and health care systems. “Building a Culture of Health calls for action within and across sectors,” RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey writes, “because progress in one area will advance progress in another.” (Read Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey’s full message here: Weaving the Threads of Health.)

So, as we look forward to wrestling together to work against poverty and for health in July, let’s enjoy the budding of trees, bushes, and flowers right now. It is a glorious time after a long, damp winter. I plan to stop and smell the roses (or the lilacs) this month as a step toward personal health — how about you?

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