EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a four-part series exploring the four initiatives the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative has partnered with to combat the isolation, disconnection and lack of self-worth – felt by many residents across the county – by improving health.
NORWAY — The Oxford County Wellness Collaborative and Community Concepts have teamed up to launch the pilot Let’s Go, Let’s Grow project at Community Concept’s Early Learning Centers to promote healthy eating and active living.
5210 Let’s Go!
The pilot project is an expansion of the 5210 Let’s Go! Oxford County program headed by Carl Constanzi. The goal is for children – infants through 18 – to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, have two or less hours of recreational screen time, do one hour or more of physical activity and have zero sugary drinks every day.
“They’re all evidence based and all supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Constanzi said about the program goals and strategies. He added Let’s Go! is unique because it uses a multi-sector approach, partnering with child care facilities, schools, children’s programs, work sites, health care practices and community groups like the Wellness Collaborative.
Community Concept’s Early Learning Centers in Oxford County – Norway Early Learning Center, Riley Early Learning Center in Paris and West Bethel Early Learning Center – provide Head Start and Early Head Start services in conjunction with SAD 17 for pregnant women and children age 5 and younger. This includes helping families access health, dental, nutrition, and special educational services.
“Because of Community Concepts’ interest in health, each of these programs are already doing what we at Let’s Go! call ‘gold level work,’” Constanzi said about the Early Learning Centers. “They’re implementing all five priority strategies, they’re communicating with their families and they have this stuff in their policy.”
“That’s due in large part to the fact that the messaging of the Let’s Go! program is really consistent with the Head Start philosophy,” said Hollie Legee, Health/Nutrition program manager for Community Concepts Children’s Services Department.
The pilot project is still being developed since Let’s Go! is an evidence-based program and research needs to be conducted before it’s launched, according to Constanzi.
“The first phase of the project is going to be looking at the evidence. What is the connection between isolation and disconnection and obesity?” he asked.
The first step is literature review through the Wellness Collaborative’s partner, Dr. Rebecca Boulos of the University of Southern Maine, who has a student supporting the pilot project.
“From my brief review of the literature – there is not a whole lot of information out there – unless we expand our definition of isolation and disconnection to include bullying, which I think is a reasonable thing to do,” Constanzi said.
The goal is to have the research done by May.
“After we see what the evidence is, we will be able to develop strategies for the staff at [Community Concept’s Early Learning Centers] to implement and provide them resources to help them,” he added.
The strategy development will take place over the summer with a tentative pilot launch set for the fall.
In health care facilities, Let’s Go! requires posters hung in the waiting and exam rooms, measuring body mass index, which calculates body fat, and using the Healthy Habits Questionnaire “to have a respectful conversation around behavior rather than weight,” Constanzi said.
Through motivational interviewing, health care providers work with patients to develop an action plan to address one or two health goals, centering around the program’s 10 strategies for success.
The other part of the pilot ties some of these practices in with the Early Head Start services, which includes weekly home visits for pregnant mothers and children up to age 3.
“If the family that’s being visited have already been through something like this, then the home visitor would support whatever action plan they came up with with the physician,” Constanzi said. “If they have never seen this before, then they will conduct the questionnaire and help them come up with an action plan.”
“We would be working together to provide them training on how to perform the questionnaire and also, potentially, for motivational interviewing,” Legee added. “The families that we work with see that [5210 Let’s Go!] message when they go to their doctor’s office, they see it in multiple locations. I think that’s what makes it so impactful.”
Depending on what the research shows, Constanzi said a question or two may be added to the Healthy Habits Questionnaire related to isolation and disconnection. And if the pilot program goes as well as they hope, it could be extended to Community Concepts’ Early Learning Centers in Franklin County or other places in Oxford County.
The precursor to the Wellness Collaborative’s four initiatives was developing Restorative Community Trainings for staff and families throughout Oxford County “to specifically engage populations that aren’t usually part of the public health decision making [process],” said Jim Douglas, director of Healthy Oxford Hills and Wellness Collaborative member.
This focuses on those who are disenfranchised or “don’t get to the table because they don’t have the means or don’t feel they belong,” he added, and can include those with healthy eating, mental health and substance use issues.
These trainings focus on creating a culture shift by having a different sort of conversation during healthy community gatherings. It’s about teaching people how to take ownership of problems and solutions instead of focusing on the negative or waiting for some outside force to fix them.
“The restorative community mindset is turning all that on its head. So it’s really focused on possibilities people can get excited about rather than problems first. … There is a real emphasis on, ‘We have everything we need, all the people and expertise we need, to start making a change today,’” Douglas said.
“What we have found is that those Restorative Community Trainings, which is what we used to call the Host Trainings, really give people in just four hours a pretty powerful experience of this new mindset that we’re talking about,” he said, noting everyone has an equal say and value in these conversations. “People find it very energizing and very hopeful. … It directly addressed that isolation, disconnection, not feeling valued piece because the intention was to build a relationship and build a connection.”
“The idea that someone has something valuable to bring to the table really fits naturally with the strengths-based perspective at Head Start as well,” Legee added.
For more information on or to enroll in Community Concepts Early Learning Centers, call 739-6536.
What is the Wellness Collaborative?
The Oxford County Wellness Collaborative (OCWC) is one of 11 Maine communities selected to implement projects in the Maine Health Access Foundation’s (MeHAF) Healthy Community grant initiative. MeHAF seeks to improve health and promote collaborative, locally led efforts that can help transform communities to enable people to live healthier lives.
The Wellness Collaborative previously received MeHAF grants to pull together people across the Oxford County to identify priority health issues that the community would like to address, and to create a plan to address those health issues. The process led to a large group gathering where community members from all walks of life talked about the challenges at the root of the County not being as healthy as they would like.
The root cause unanimously chosen as a place to start to make change was isolation, disconnection and not feeling valued. Put another way, too many people in Oxford County aren’t connected with the people and resources that they need, and don’t have a sense of their worth. A series of Community Health Needs Assessment forums followed, where the priority health issues of obesity and substance use disorder were named.
Current MeHAF funding supports the work of four partners chosen by OCWC members to address the chosen health issues: the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative, 5210 Let’s Go! Oxford County, Alan Day Community Garden, and the Community Safety Workgroup’s subcommittee on Adverse Childhood Experiences & Resilience.