Rebecca Bostwick headshotBy Rebecca Bostwick, Managing Director

It is hard to believe that five years have passed since the inception of the Lerner Center at The Maxwell School.  We knew we had to hit the ground running with a robust health promotion campaign, while also developing an organizational and administrative framework, recruiting and hiring graduate students, staff, and faculty, and carefully finding our place within our campus and broader community. We took that last piece very seriously, and continue to do so to this day. The generous gift from Sid and Helaine Lerner has allowed us to thoughtfully and strategically build relationships and trust, leading to meaningful partnerships, and thus an impactful portfolio of work.

Our mission—our “why”—has evolved over the past five years to a simple yet important one: to improve the health of the community. As our colleagues will share, it is an interesting time to be a part of the ever evolving world of health promotion and the expanding field of population health. It continues to be incumbent upon us as a Center—and one located at a university—to not just articulate but to act in a manner that advances the values  that underscore our work. As the why drives us, the how and the what of our work builds our reputation in the community for being an effective partner in health promotion and community health.

Improving a community’s health requires us to work in partnerships– partnerships that are defined by aligned goals, a desire to understand each other’s motivation, a collective commitment to reaching those goals, and a united front in supporting each other, even when that means taking a backseat to allow the organization with the best fit to reach the goal to move forward in doing so. We also have to think outside our box of traditional partnerships and bring in new private and public partners, as well as the residents we seek to serve. We must take the time to learn one another’s language, such that we can better advocate for the community’s health by ensuring that the voice of the community is incorporated into each and every “solution”.

The how and what of our work continues to serve as a platform to better understand what interventions do and do not work; how to maintain sustainability; how to nimbly pivot and address emerging social and economic issues that impact community well-being; what next steps are needed to truly integrate public health and health care; how data and technology can assist us; what is needed to educate and train the next generation of population health leaders; and how to serve as an example for development of true community health initiatives that can be accomplished at a local, state, and national level.

Through thoughtful planning, the Healthy Monday Syracuse campaign has grown to multiple campuses and communities. The campaign purposefully retains its grassroots, bottom-up approach, such that it is welcoming to all types of people, no matter how a particular individual defines health. Our community health efforts in the broader community, with partners such as the Near Westside Initiative, Nojaim Brothers Supermarket, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Onondaga County Health Department, Health E Connections, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, and the Peacemaking Center (just to name a few), have shown us how we can play a needed role as an objective convener and facilitator.

The work we do at the Lerner Center through the Healthy Monday Syracuse campaign as well as our portfolio of community health initiatives continues to provide us with a rich understanding of the partnerships necessary to impact health and well-being of a community, and the policies that must accompany efforts to bring about systematic change. If we are truly to be a part of lasting change, we have to be a part of a larger network of residents, advocates, and public and private partners that are pulling—not pushing—in the same direction. The complexities of improving community health demand it, as do the people we seek to serve. We are ready for the challenge.