When giving his State of the University address recently, President Gordon Gee reiterated our University's commitment to improving the lives of the residents in our state. Health is a huge focus for us at West Virginia University.
I was pleased he mentioned "Try This WV," a group dedicated to helping change the state's health culture.
Try This WV is an amazing organization that was started by Kate Long, a former eporter for the Charleston Gazette. She went around the state discovering all of the community wellness and health projects that were sprouting up around the state for a series of articles in the paper.
I had a lot of fun interviewing Kate and Stephen Smith, who lead Try This WV.
At some point, she decided to take this on full time and using a checklist of evidence-based community health approaches from the Centers for Disease Control, she got to work.
She was joined by Stephen Smith, a Charleston native, who attended Harvard and the London School of Economics before coming back to support legislation for children and ultimately joined Kate as the co-director of Try This WV.
They created a microgrant program (~$500 to 1500) that required at least three groups from a community to submit an application with a deliverable product at the end and a rigorous reporting structure.
This approach has been fantastically successful. From running and biking clubs to community gardens to new playgrounds to building grocery stores, Try This WV and community groups have activated a culture of health for WV.
I had the chance to also ask some questions to both of them.
What would they say about each other?
Kate about Stephen – "He is committed to helping even when the job gets hard."
Stephen about Kate - She is purely good in her intention to help others and is really talented, including being a songwriter and singer.
What is the hardest thing you have done?
Kate – "Seeing someone you love die." That person was my dad, Don Marsh.
Whew! I didn’t expect that, but that connection is still strong for both of us and we hugged.
Emotional moment for me.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Stephen – "Pizza"
Kate – "Beer (craft beer)"
What is your biggest fail?
Stephen – "Being a parent. You find out consistently all the stuff you aren’t so great at doing. You also are always worrying you aren’t able to give your child all he/she needs from you."
Kate – "There is no fail, only how you define it." Kate finished by singing a song she wrote and got the whole crowd to join in.
I am blown away by the impact that a small group of committed people can make.
The Try This WV conference had more than 600 people that are involved in community activation and health.
As we say at WVU, that is what going first is like.