At a community garden in Tallahassee, Florida, not only are residents able to access healthy produce, they’re also finding hope.

“When you see them in the garden, they become transformed,” said P. Wasimah Boston of Project Food Now. “We’re doing something for the emotions of folks, which makes the work even more valuable.”

Boston spoke about her program’s work during yesterday’s Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge Institute, held in Atlanta in conjunction with APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo. During the institute, participants talked about ways to approach and address the social determinants of health and strategies for creating lasting change at the community level. Tallahassee and surrounding Leon County are part of the Challenge’s HealthyComunity50 — cities and counties now working to improve health in one of five arenas: healthy behaviors, built environment, community safety, social and economic factors, and environmental exposure.

Improving the built environment with sidewalks, shade and bike lanes is one way to ensure change endures even if grant money for a health project dries up, said Michael Roman of Live Healthy Little Havana in Miami, Florida. He also touted the need to be creative when it comes to public health outreach.

“We try to find very innovative ways to get public health to our residents,” he said during the institute. Instead of hosting a health fair, for example, organizers with Live Healthy Little Havana trucked in 30 tons of snow to a Miami neighborhood in February. As young Floridians had a blast playing in a pop-up winter wonderland, they could also take advantage of dental exams courtesy a mobile oral health van. At a waterplay fun day at the same park, a mammography van offered free screenings.

Creativity is important, said Matt Kleinmann of the Wyandotte County Healthy Community Corridor in Kansas City, Kansas. For example, even though residents said they would take advantage of a local park’s walking trail if a bench was installed, the funder declined, saying the bench represented “sedentary behavior.” So designers came up with a bench that incorporated a bike rack and handles that can be used as a fitness station. New plan in hand, the funder gave the green light.

Kleinmann and other institute panelists stressed the importance of involving community members in any health improvement project, whether that be a walking audit, a comprehensive master plan or the design of a community kitchen.

“It’s not just something that’s done for them,” he said. “It’s done with them.”

And how can all of us support healthy change that lasts?

“Be present,” Kleinmann said. “Be an accessible, knowledgeable resource and get things done, which admittedly can be difficult.”

We hear you. Get inspired by all the great public health work that’s part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, APHA and the National Association of Counties, by browsing healthiestcities.org. Then go out there and get things done.