When you think about improving the health of people in your community, what comes to mind? Improving access to and the quality of medical services? Yes. Increasing access to recreation opportunities or nutritious food? For sure. Cleaning the air or water? Absolutely. These all are critical ways to improve the health of community members.

But, do you think about supporting more students to attend college? Creating jobs? Helping families to achieve more financial stability? Improving your community’s safety? These factors may not come as readily to mind, yet they all have a significant impact on health.

That’s why we are enthused about our new role in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program, an initiative to improve our nation’s health by thinking beyond health care, beyond the doctor’s office. County Health Rankings, which are issued annually by RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, pinpoint what we know about what makes residents sick or healthy. The Roadmaps show how community partnerships are working to create healthier places to live, learn, work and play.

Community Catalyst will lead one element of the initiative – the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants program. We know that addressing the social, economic and other factors that affect health is critical to improving our health system and making it work for people. We will bring our expertise in advocacy to help those receiving grants to improve health by tackling social and economic concerns in their communities. Twelve grants were awarded in 2011 and more will be issued in 2012.

The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants supports positive change in areas that communities themselves have identified as ripe for action. For instance, grantee Rhode Island KIDS COUNT has a plan to promote education from ‘cradle to college.’ PedNet, in Columbia, Missouri, is advocating for changes in public transportation to give more people access to jobs, and the Alameda County, California Health Department is working with community partners to increase access to banks and quality financial products in the city’s most impoverished areas. All of the efforts are bringing together diverse partners from business, education, public health, faith organizations and community groups to increase opportunity and tackle factors that impede health.

We look forward to working with these exciting projects, as well as documenting and sharing their success stories. Take a look at all twelve projects here.

— Debbie Katz, Associate Director, Roadmaps to Health Community Grants