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All-America City Award Finalists Stewardship in Action: Pitt County, North Carolina
Photo by Stacy Wegley
Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the prestigious All-America City Award. The 2020 All-America City Award Finalist communities focus specifically on enhancing health and well-being through civic engagement.
Stewardship is a core concept for The Commons community and our collaborators working to advance equitable wellbeing across the country. When applied to our collective work, the concept describes leaders—both people and organizations—who take responsibility for forming working relationships to drive transformative change in regions and communities. Stewards also have a vested interest in promoting an equity orientation in regard to purpose, power, and wealth:
"Stewards of well-being and justice are people and organizations who share responsibility for working across differences to expand the vital conditions all people and places need to thrive." —Thriving Together: A Springboard for Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America, Introduction
All-America City Finalist communities exemplify how stewardship is best accomplished when folks work together across differences and sectors to expand the Vital Conditions that all people and places need to thrive. Learn more about the civic engagement practices that made the community of Pitt County a 2020 finalist:
Identified in Pitt County’s common mission is an intentional commitment to engage people to determine their needs and to implement solutions. From the community health needs assessment, to comprehensive master plans, to appointments to boards and commissions, to establishing health priorities, the county listens intently to the voices of residents. Using these resident voices, Pitt County identifies, develops and targets initiatives that connect incommunity members with resources that improve health and well-being. Learn more here.
Steward Snapshot: Alice Keene
County leader and changemaker Alice Keene joined Commons Good podcast host Stacy Wegley for a conversation about stewardship, belonging, and connection. Check out the excerpts to learn more about Alice’s experiences--and click on the audio clip to hear directly from Alice.
A lifelong North Carolina resident, Alice began her work transforming communities implementing shared use programs, working with residents to leverage underused resources in their own backyards.
I have been very blessed to spend my whole career in one community and, as you know, that doesn't happen very much anymore. Right out of college, I was fortunate to get a job with Greenville Recreation and Parks—and spent four and a half years there developing their first year-round programs for people with disabilities. One of our most important programs was Special Olympics.
I loved what I was doing and then the Community Schools Legislation was passed in the state of North Carolina, with a focus on maximizing the utilization of school facilities for the entire community. The legislation was about using school facilities, not closing the doors at three o'clock in the afternoon and all weekend.
The very fact that those school facilities belong to every single person in the community, not just to the principals or the coaches or just education, I really thought that was a great idea. It touched me as something that could have the potential for really changing communities and certainly making more resources available to people.
In our case, our Board of Education and our County Commissioners saw this as a great opportunity to serve our rural county population. So, that's where I started, and I've stayed there. I officially retired from Pitt County Schools and then went to work part-time with Pitt County to continue our work with expanding parks.
Pitt County leaders and residents believe in the power of relationships, knowing how important it is to invest in each other and to build a strong sense of belonging and connection.
We've had a chance to build relationships. When I talk to young professionals, I talk about how relationships are so critical to your career. You can't do it by yourself. You have to build relationships. But, just like every single relationship in our life, our work relationships take time. As a County, we are fortunate to have many key administrators who have been in place for a while, it’s given us a chance to build those relationships over time.
I love Barbara Mandrell and she used to sing a song that says: I was country before country was cool. Many of us were working together—especially parks and recreation, our health department, our planning department, our hospital, our community organizations--we were working together a long time before working together was the cool thing to do. We realized that health needed to be written into every master plan, our land use plan, our parks and recreation plan. Whatever plan it was, a health component needed to be there.
We also remember to recognize all of our partners when we're successful. We celebrate a new trail in the park or expansion of a community garden or farmer's market. We don't forget those institutions, departments, foundations, and others who came together to make a project successful.
I think every time you're successful, that generates a kind of camaraderie, a kind of enthusiasm, a commitment to buy a little bit more into our shared vision.
Pitt County residents demonstrate the strong connections and relationships the community has cultivated across generations.
This is our home, this is our community. Through our triannual Community Health and Needs Assessment (CHNA) process coordinated by our Public Health Department and Vidant Medical Center, emphasis is placed on receiving surveys from across the County. Special “Listening Sessions” are focused on hearing the voices of underserved communities and populations. With the results of the CHNA, priorities are established by the Board of Health, Vidant Medical Center Board of Trustees, Vidant Health Foundation and Pitt Partners for Health.
Celebrating its 25th Anniversary in September, Pitt Partners for Health is our countywide coalition with a mission “To improve the population health of Pitt County through coalition building and partnership.” From governmental agencies, to hospital departments, to not-for-profits, to faith communities, to businesses, to educational institutions and many others--all are invited to become partners in improving the health and well-being of people across our County.
With alignment of priorities from decision makers at the top to the “boots on the ground” with an invitation for all to join, that’s what gives me hope for the future.