Del Norte County has received recognition from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is one of 12 communities in the running for a $25,000 award.

Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands are finalists for the national philanthropy's Culture of Health Prize. According to Michelle Carrillo, Building Healthy Communities initiative director, this prize recognizes "the best of the best" in U.S. communities that are modeling how they're overcoming challenges related to health.

"They're looking at how we as a community define health in the broadest term," Carrillo said Friday. "It's not just going to a doctor's visit (it's) sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions."

BHC and the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation worked together to apply for the award about six months ago, Carrillo said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the Culture of Health Prize finalists in March, stating that the 12 communities were selected out of nearly 200 that applied, according to a press release. The prize winners will be announced this fall, according to the release.

In addition to Del Norte and Adjacent Tribal Lands, other California finalists include Gonzales and Vista. Finalists also include Sitka, Alaska, Broward County, Florida and Lake County, Colorado.

"These communities have set themselves apart by recognizing that health is about opportunity. It is connected to every element of our lives — good schools, safe and affordable housing, high-quality jobs that pay a fair wage and so much more," said Dr. Richard Besser, foundation president and CEO. "In the coming months, we look forward to visiting each community to learn more about how it is working with local leaders and residents to shape solutions in all these areas that impact health."

Del Norte's turn for a visit from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation came Tuesday and Wednesday. According to Geneva Wiki, senior program manager for the California Endowment, which founded BHC, foundation representatives met with representatives of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods to learn about Pacific Pantry and its children's garden. They toured the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation's new housing project and met with the Yurok Tribal Council and Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti. Foundation representatives also toured Open Door Clinic's garden and learned about its Promotores program, Wiki said.

"We went to CR and learned more about the Youth Training Academy and the Health Career Pathways initiative," she said. "People were hopping on and off the bus: A group of nonprofit folks working on resiliency hopped on the bus, the 3Read23 folks hopped on the bus, young people engaged with organizing ... they had a lot of questions around residents that have been organizing."

According to Carrillo, the Robert Wood Johnson representatives also wanted to know how "we are measuring and sharing progress and results."

Carrillo noted that the visit was not about the Wild Rivers Community Foundation or Building Healthy Communities, but about connecting foundation representatives with local organizations that are doing the work.

"One of the most concrete examples was the literacy initiative," Carrillo said, "with the concrete goal of all children reading by 3rd grade in the year 2023. We have indicators underneath that, a learning community analyzing that, we've done large community convening, inserts in the Triplicate sharing that data...."

According to Carrillo, if Del Norte is awarded the Culture of Health Prize, the $25,000 goes to the community. There would be a community process to determine how those funds would be distributed, she said. There would also be "a lot of storytelling" that would go along with the award, she said.

"They would start a storytelling process, bringing in high-quality news crews and videographers and people to write papers and that kind of stuff," Carrillo said. "They fund all of that. It would be documenting and learning (about) what's happening here so it can be shared nationally."

For more information about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, visit rwjf.org/prize.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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