(Editor’s note: The articles in our 2020 Health and Wellness special section were written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. While some of the facilities and businesses referenced are now closed due to the current health crisis, they will be there when this has passed and we all return to our normal routines.)
Since 1993, there’s been a group of county residents operating quietly in the background, working diligently to improve the health of the community.
The Community Wellness Council for Valencia County began as the Valencia County Coalition for Families, Children and Community, and in 2010, was reorganized as the Community Wellness Council, a 501c3.
Its mission is to promote community collaboration through a framework of coordination, assessment and solutions.
“The state (Legislature) saw the value of groups in communities that were already working and that know their community,” said Diana Good, council board of directors vice chairwoman, “rather than them telling us what’s best for our community.”
The Legislature created New Mexico’s county and tribal health councils in 1991, and they play a key role in the state’s public health system by identifying local health needs, establishing community priorities and plans and implementing local solutions.
“One of the important things we do at the local wellness council is gather updated information at the local level that can be used by anyone,” Good said. “If there is a nonprofit organization in the community that is seeking a grant or a government agency putting together a (request for proposal), we have data they can use that was gathered at the local level, that is just about us.”
That data helps create the council pinpoint its community-selected priorities every three years. The priorities for 2019-2021 are violence prevention, behavioral health, substance misuse, healthy eating and active living.
The information and data it gathers can show trends that are cause for concern, Good said, such as increased deaths in youth overdoses from substance misuse. The council looks at various indicators in order to advise local agencies, such as governing bodies and others offering direct services, about changes they should be aware of.
“We can’t just look at these indicators and say ‘Oh, I guess that’s just what happens.’ I mean, we could at some point, get into a situation where we just day, ‘Oh yeah, well, you know, all young people just happened to overdose,’” Good said. “If things get to a place where we just accept that as the norm, where we just gave up, that would be sad.
“So we watch for these things, we see a little bump in the data or the curve and we say, ‘Hey, we need to be looking at that.’”
Board of directors council chairwoman Ginny Adame said much of the information gathered and work done by the council is behind the scenes.
“These are things people may not really think about unless the question is brought up,” Adame said. “Then we ask what types of things do we need to do as a community to make changes?”
The council offers technical assistance to organizations, along with advice on best practices and evidence-based programs.
“We also build connections between groups that are working here in Valencia County,” Good said. “Working in isolation, in your own bubble is not best practice as we all know.”
Good said organizations need to think about not only the direct services they offer but also possible barriers for the people who need those services.
“You might have a great after-school program, but if the kids don’t have a way to get home after the program is done, they aren’t likely to participate,” she said. “You’re average 14 year old is reliant on the bus to get from school to home.”
The council also tries to have an updated, comprehensive list of community resources on its website. The spreadsheet contains information for services for adults, children and seniors from mental health to transportation.
“We want to have good, accurate information for the community. One day, a lady showed up at my office in tears looking for a parenting class,” she said. “She was mandated by the court to get this done and she had a day left to get it started.
“She was absolutely exhausted by the time she got to me — she’d been to five places that day, all of whom were out of business. She’d used all of her gas money trying to find the service she needed.”
More information about the council and a listing of community resources can be found at communitywellnesscouncil.org.
Board meetings are generally held on the first Wednesday of the month and are open to the public. Call Ginny Adame, chairwoman, at 352-7723; Diana Good, vice chairwoman, at 222-0958; or Noelle Chavez, coordinator, at 388-3547 for information or to confirm the next meeting time, date and place.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.