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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborates with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to award the Culture of Health Prize to select communities. This prize focuses on marginalized populations who show commitment to working together to better their residents’ lifestyles and the places they live in. These commitments are evident in different fields such as health, education, and business.

Eatonville, Florida was one of four communities selected this year as a recipient of Culture of Health Prize out of nearly 200 applicants from across the country. Other communities that received this prize were: Cicero, Illinois; Klamath County, Oregon; and San Antonio, Texas.

The Polis Institute contributed to this success by deploying our community engagement model and developing resident leadership. This program is called Leadership Eatonville which prepares participants to utilize a growth mindset, project management, and asset-based community development to help the community achieve meaningful goals. Leadership Eatonville was first piloted in 2016 and has graduated thirty-two residents thus far. Financial support for our efforts was provided by Winter Park Health Foundation which has had a long-standing relationship with the town and, along with Florida Hospital, established Healthy Eatonville Place – an initiative that contributed significantly to the town’s Culture of Health Prize win.

The heroes of the story, however, are without a doubt the residents of Eatonville – the oldest predominant black community in America. These residents, 2,200 strong, were determined to make their community flourish by improving quality of life while maintaining the historical character of the city. Along with the help of churches, government leaders, organizations, nonprofits, associations leading various programs, projects, and trainings, Eatonville has realized great improvements over the past few years in terms of health, resident leadership and engagement, housing, education, local economy, and community development.

After the discovery of high rates of diabetes, the town of Eatonville decided to take actions to be a healthier place. Town hall, nine local churches, Winter Park Health Foundation, Florida Hospital, and the Orlando Chapter of the American Diabetes Association all held an important role in addressing diabetes in the city. This was achieved through several initiatives surrounding wellness services such as, health classes, and studies on how to prevent or fight diabetes.

The existing nine churches in Eatonville took part in this effort to make Eatonville flourish through high school sports games, diabetes prevention programs, food pantries, fitness classes, and after school programs. Additionally, a brand new school opened in August with the support of the mayor, the churches, and local businesses. They sought to fulfill the students’ needs during the school year. STEM was also incorporated throughout the curriculum. With a great desire to empower the next generation of leaders, Eatonville prepares youth for success with the help of local leaders, non-profits, after school programs, and churches.

Read more about Eatonville’s award on the RWJF site by clicking here.