Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly, formerly the Polk County Wellness Coalition, is a broad-based group of community leaders, health professionals, and concerned community members working together to plan and implement effective strategies to promote wellness in our community. Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly recognizes that wellness is more than absence of disease and requires more than access to medical care. Wellness involves thriving and is dependent on such factors as physical activity, healthy eating, spiritual comfort and positive, supportive relationships.
The Polk County Wellness Coalition
The former Polk County Wellness Coalition was established as the culmination of several initiatives organized over the years to bring focus, awareness and change in the accessibility, continuity and affordability of mental, physical and dental care to the people of Polk County. In 2004, a group of professionals, law enforcement officials, mental health providers and representatives from Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry, St. Luke’s Hospital, Polk County Schools, Rutherford-Polk-McDowell Health District and the Polk County Department of Social Services convened as the Wellness Committee to advise the Polk County Board of Commissioners on long-range health planning and future funding needs. In 2006, a subcommittee of the Wellness Committee organized a community health summit. Because of the collaborative efforts to address various healthcare issues, the Wellness Committee, now referred to as the Wellness Coalition, achieved Healthy Carolinians status in 2007 and statewide recognition.
The 2008 Community Health Assessment (CHA), resulted in a Polk County Health Summit, held at the local community college. At that summit, CHA data was used to identify four priority health needs, and action teams were created to develop strategies to address the four areas: obesity, access to care, mental health, substance abuse and prevention/education. Funding from Kate B. Reynolds, Healthy Carolinians, Polk County and the Polk County Community Foundation allowed the Wellness Coalition to hire a part time coordinator to support its efforts.
The Wellness Coalition was re-certified by Healthy Carolinians in 2009, but budget cuts saw the demise of Wellness Coalition funding and loss of its coordinator. These changes created both the need and the opportunity for the Wellness Coalition to refocus.
In early 2011, the Wellness Coalition held a workshop to discuss direction and funding. A determination was made to reorganize the Wellness Coalition and to explore names that would distinguish the Wellness Coalition from the newly opened (2009) Polk County Wellness Center. Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly (PF3) reorganized with a board of volunteers who agreed to serve one-to three-year terms and work with any or all of the four action teams that continued to meet to address concerns identified in the 2008 CHA.
The new structure of PF3 allowed for a revitalization of the organization. Through collaboration and cooperation among our various stakeholders, a variety of wellness related issues, including some of those identified in the 2012 CHA, were prioritized and addressed. However, by 2014 it became evident that greater organizational capacity would be needed to continue effective coordination of information and resources in our community. To that end, PF3 sought and was awarded status as a non-profit corporation in the State of North Carolina (2014) and a 501(c)3 public charity by the Internal Revenue Service (2015).
In 2016, PF3 entered into a partnership with Foothills Health Network (FHN). This relationship has allowed us to more effectively engage with health and human service agencies and organizations serving Polk County, and to receive financial support for programs impacting social determinants of health. FHN provided funding to support the development and initial implementation of the Hear2Help program (2016-2017).
We have recently hired our first employee, who serves as a part-time paid coalition coordinator and a manager for the Hear2Help Program. We believe that this investment in planning and manpower will allow PF3 to focus on strategies and partnerships that will promote wellness in Polk County for years to come. Many thanks to the Polk County Community Foundation for their support and funding for the coalition coordinator position!