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BUILDing Together for Healthier Communities

Health is commonly thought of through the lens of health care–the doctor’s office, the emergency room, and the prescriptions. But in reality, much of health is dependent on our environment—our homes; our access to fresh food and transportation; where we work, live, and play. On September 12, the BUILD Health Challenge (BUILD) announced awards to 19 communities that are breaking new ground in their efforts to address the root causes, or upstream factors of health in their own community. Representatives from each community, (including leaders from local community-based organizations, hospitals or health systems, and public health departments) gathered at the Center for Total Health in Washington, DC, the next day to kick off their two-year journey with BUILD.

As BUILD awardees, these communities from across the country are tackling a variety of issues, including: transportation planning, quality of housing, workplace tobacco policies, and more with the goal of improving community health. And core to each community’s efforts is the application of Bold (policy oriented), Upstream, Integrated (multi-sector partnerships), Local (resident engagement), and Data-driven (BUILD) approaches. Funders for this second round of the BUILD Health Challenge have committed resources totaling $8 million to support these endeavors, and each selected community identified local hospital partners that will collectively add more than $5 million in both monetary and in-kind support to the project.

The Center for Total Health was the perfect setting for us all to champion this multi-sector approach. With interactive exhibits showing how health in the community can be improved and made sustainable through a shared commitment to moving resources, attention, and action upstream.

Now in its second round, BUILD is one of the nation’s most promising efforts to improve health in vulnerable neighborhoods. Already the initiative has yielded innovative new cross-sector approaches such as remodeling of homes to improve indoor air quality and control childhood asthma; leveraging data to better understand patient needs and behaviors beyond the clinical setting to promote healthy lifestyles; reimagining food supply and distribution channels in communities to address food insecurity, and more.

While at the Center for Total Health, participants engaged with peers through hands-on workshops, mingled with each other during networking sessions, and made the most of their surroundings throughout the day. The event began with a collaboration session, a chance for the 19 communities to share commonalities, by region and by issue-area, and share learnings. A storytelling workshop followed, challenging community members to craft and share a compelling story that championed and advanced their project’s effort.

The closing keynote featured a conversation between NPR reporter Allison Aubrey and The Kresge Foundation’s Chris Kabel, in which Aubrey shared her insights on the complex role of food and nutrition in communities, along with what it takes to craft a captivating story. The concluding Q&A session allowed the communities to dig deep into her expertise in journalism and learn how to engage their audiences to help amplify their stories and create meaningful change.

We are excited to see what they will BUILD in the years to come! For those who are interested in learning more, visit for additional information.

The BUILD Health Challenge is made possible with the support and leadership of: The Advisory Board Company, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, the de Beaumont Foundation, the Episcopal Health Foundation, Interact for Health, The Kresge Foundation, Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, New Jersey Health Initiatives, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Telligen Community Initiative, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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