Learning to Thrive through a Culture of Health

Thrive Allen County is pleased to announce that Allen County has been awarded a “Culture of Health” prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Each year, hundreds of communities across the nation apply for this prestigious honor, but only a few are selected. For 2017, Allen County is one of only eight winners.

The RWJF Culture of Health Prize recognizes communities that have placed a priority on health and are creating powerful partnerships and deep commitments that will enable everyone, especially those facing the greatest challenges, with the opportunity to live well.

The Culture of Health prize recognizes the relentless commitment, under Thrive Allen County’s decade of leadership, towards the vision of Allen County as the healthiest rural county in Kansas. We’re not there yet, but we’ve demonstrated outstanding progress:

  • Thrive led an initiative called Vision Iola, which asked residents to help envision and plan for the future of the city. Through a six-month process of public meetings, committee work sessions, and planning documents, the community settled on a progressive vision that emphasized good urban design principles to improve public health and community vitality. The resulting Vision Iola plan has been used as a framework for community signage, downtown streetscape improvements, and park and trails development.
  • Thrive spearheaded the efforts to replace the aging hospital in Iola, efforts that culminated in voters approving a $30 million bond issue, and the subsequent construction of a state-of-the-art critical access hospital, which opened in 2013 as Allen County Regional Hospital, a Kansas Level IV Trauma Center. The new hospital has improved local health care, while the old hospital site has been redeveloped to provide housing and a new supermarket in the heart of the community.
  • In 2014, Thrive Allen County was recognized as the Kansas Organizational Health Champion for its exemplary contributions to fitness in Kansas.
  • Ten years ago, Allen County had no trails. Today, it boasts a greater variety of trail miles per capita than anywhere in Kansas — more than twenty miles of trails, with more being added each year. The trail network has increased our resident’s access to recreational opportunities and to nature, diversified our transportation options, and aided in recruiting and retaining businesses, while offering the potential for increased tourism. In 2017 we received some statewide accolades, when Iola was voted the Top Trail Town in Kansas.
  • Since economic vitality is so closely linked to health, Thrive has taken a leadership role in economic development efforts for Iola and Allen County, delivering full-time professionals dedicated to recruiting and retaining industry and business, and responding to ongoing development opportunities.

In its decade of existence, Thrive has gone from a few volunteers with an audacious idea, to the largest rural health advocacy organization in Kansas, with a full-time staff of 10 and a budget of over $800,000 per year. Since its inception, Thrive Allen County has brought in over $4 million of private foundation investment.

Thrive thanks the Allen County community — county leaders, city leaders, the business community, educators, healthcare professionals, residents, and the small army of volunteers that leap into action on projects and initiatives big and small — that made the Culture of Health prize a reality.

Together, we’ve invested of our time, talents, and treasures to get to this point. We’re not done, not by a long shot. The challenges remain. The work continues. But this prize is a public recognition — on a national scale — of our commitment to building and nurturing a Culture of Health in Allen County.