HEALTHY COMMUNITIES CELEBRATES 15 YEARS
Over the past 15 years, Healthy
Communities of LaPorte County has driven numerous projects to improve
the health and quality of life of area residents.
The LaPorte County Healthy Communities
Initiative began in 1996 when the LaPorte Hospital Foundation
designated $25,000 from its philanthropy budget to pursue the
national concept of developing a catalyst organization dedicated to
making positive change. A task force began meeting regularly, and M.
Sue Lawrence was tapped to serve as part-time coordinator of this
The group invited Saint Anthony
Memorial to join in support of this new health-focused initiative. In
2001, the organization’s name was adjusted to Healthy Communities
of LaPorte County (HCLC), and the first full-time director, Sandy
Gleim, was hired. The hospitals continued as major funders of
Healthy Communities (HCLC) through 2006. Since that time, HCLC
achieved nonprofit status and has become self-sustainable by
achieving a wide variety of project-specific grants as well as
Board Chair Matt Cook welcomed guests
and recognized early supporters at the organization’s anniversary
luncheon celebration event, including Sr. Judian Breitenbach, Dr.
Barbara Backer, Maria Fruth, John Kessler, Sr. Marcene Franz, and M.
Sue Lawrence. In the early years, Sr. Judian provided a valuable link
between the St. Joseph County Healthy Communities Initiative. She
also served as a board member and chair of the organization, while
John Kessler, Sr. Marcene Franz, and Maria Fruth continued into roles
as board members, as well.
Current board members also were thanked
for their service: Vice Chair Jerry Huddleston, Secretary / Treasurer
Norm Kleist, Executive Board members Roy Zimmerman, Gail Mahl and
Sharon McGuire, and Shelley Dunleavy, Maria Fruth, Tony Mancuso,
Regina Ruddell, and Lori Williams. In addition, new members Luis
Miramontes and Bruce Johnson were welcomed.
Maria Fruth shared highlights from the
organization’s history, which included development of the dental
clinic that now operates out of the Community Health Center. Initial
Healthy Communities Coordinator M. Sue Lawrence also supported
creation of an information and referral database, which has become
the baseline for United Way’s current manned 2-1-1 helpline.
In 2001, after Sandy Gleim was hired, a
number of “visioning” sessions were held throughout the county to
seek resident input into unmet needs. In November of that year a
large group of key stakeholders gathered to choose new directions for
the organization. Initially Healthy Communities focused solely on
health issues, but it was expanded to encompass quality of life
New directions included a focus on
public transportation expansion, county unity, and safe communities.
Gleim noted that these initiatives eventually were transitioned for
continuance by other entities, but over the course of several years
under Healthy Communities, they resulted in a comprehensive study of
transportation needs and options, creation of a SAFE KIDS car seat
fitting initiative, presentation of numerous Super Shot immunization
events and racial harmony and diversity study circles, along with
hosting of the annual Rev. Martin Luther King breakfast celebration.
“The goal for Healthy Communities is
to find the right community fit for a project,” Gleim says.
“Sometimes this may mean seeing a project through to completion. At
other times, at a certain stage, an initiative may be transitioned to
another organization for longer-term support. Overall we strive to
fill gaps in community needs, rather than duplicate any existing
Current HCLC initiatives include a
decade serving as the lead agency working on tobacco control issues
under the Tobacco Prevention & Cessation Commission, now part of
the Indiana State Department of Health. Locally, this has resulted in
lowering the adult smoking rate from nearly 31% to 26%. In addition,
cessation systems outreach in the hospitals and clinics has
encouraged quitting tobacco to approximately 4,500 persons each year.
Policy has been another strong focus, including support of smokefree
policy for school campuses, workplaces, restaurants, etc. Plus, more
than a thousand students are reached every two years with tobacco
prevention curriculum and VOICE student advocacy efforts through
Michigan City and LaPorte schools.
Gleim shared that the earliest Healthy
Communities’ council, focusing on general health issues, has
continued its work since the founding of the dental clinic and
immunization of 640 children in Super Shot events. Other projects
have included developing a healthy baby booklet for at-risk families
and holding a series of obesity education classes in collaboration
with Purdue Extension.
Another HCLC health initiative started
in 2006 with the Covering Kids & Families emphasis on enrolling
eligible children and adults for state insurance programs. In 2008
the council became part of the state Covering Kids initiative, and it
is now headed by Director Monica Cavinder. Hundreds of persons have
been educated and enrolled, and Cavinder voiced thanks for funding
assistance from Duneland Health Council, IU Health La Porte Hospital,
MDwise, Swanson Center, and Managed Health Services.
Coordinator Judy Hanish discussed the
formation of the Literacy Council in 2006, which has flourished with
strong support from Unity Foundation of LaPorte County, city of
Michigan City, Michigan City Community Enrichment Corporation and
Barker Welfare Foundation. Major initiatives have included daycare
and Hispanic Kindergarten Readiness, an Executive Spelling Bee and a
Special Reading Needs tutoring program.
“Thanks to early support from Mayor
Chuck Oberlie and the city, Special Reading Needs has helped more
than 350 Michigan City elementary students improve their literacy
skills,” Hanish said.
It was also shared at the celebration
event that Healthy Communities Executive Director Sandy Gleim
provides contracted coordination to the LaPorte County Drug Free
Partnership, and she is program director of the federal Drug Free
Communities youth prevention grant landed in 2010. With coordination
support from Micki Webb, the coalition focuses in the areas of
underage drinking, binge drinking, and prescription drug abuse.
In late 2009, HCLC agreed to take on
the administration, including absorbing the board duties, for El
Puente Community Center. Maria Schwieter is the program director,
with contractors handling essential interpreting, social service
referrals and health classes in collaboration with Minority Health
Finally, current additional funders
were recognized and thanked, including John W. Anderson Foundation,
Alcoa Howmet, and Matthew F. Moore Foundation. Other past supporters
included Dollar General, HealthVisions Midwest, NIPSCO, Mittal Steel,
plus LaPorte County and the city of LaPorte highway funds for the
For more information about Healthy
Communities projects and initiatives, call 326-6260.