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A Rockford initiative's grant cycle is coming to a close, but the work will continue

Shelton Kay
Yvonne Boose
Shelton Kay

Three years ago, Rockford received a grant to improve health literacy in the community. The grant cycle is ending in June but the organization that leads the charge will continue its mission.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health offered these funds to over 70 cities and counties across the U.S.

Rockford’s Health and Human Services Department partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago, Cura Strategies and other Rockford leaders to create Rockford Ready.

Rockford Ready recently conducted townhalls to go over the progress and next steps.

Shelton Kay is the executive director of the Rockford Regional Health Council. He said the next step is to create material to help healthcare providers. He said Cura Strategies is working on the material.

“I am in the process of reviewing the initial information, and then they're going to be putting it, once it's put together, in the brochure,” Kay explained. “I'm going to be sharing that with the health systems before we do a full printing of it.”

Kay said Rockford Ready made an impact on the community because most people didn’t know how to advocate for their health, especially the older population. He said the initiative worked with different organizations to show they can have an impact as well. Rockford Ready gave some of these groups micro-grants to help educate the people they reach.

Dorothy Reddic is a Rockford resident. She said she learned about Rockford Ready on Facebook a while ago. One of the partners of the initiative was her pharmacy. They were educating her church about the COVID-19 vaccine. Reddic said the initiative helped her navigate through her health journey by teaching her how to prepare for her doctor visits. She has a doctor’s appointment coming up.

“This appointment was made on January 26,” she noted. “So, there's been several things that's been going on in between, but I'm sure if I don't write things down, which I normally do that, I will go in and talk about whatever is ailing me that day or that week and I'm not maximizing my appointment.”

Reddic said she wants this initiative to be intentional about inclusivity and she isn’t speaking of just race.

“The CDC said there's about 27% of the American population that are disabled who have disabilities,” Reddic said. “And so, if that's a quarter of the people who live here, then we should be able to access health care in an accessible manner.”

Four-point eight percent of that number deal with blindness or serious difficulty seeing problems according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reddic suggests having audio materials on the website for those who have trouble seeing.

Rockford Ready does have videos and other audio offerings on the site but Kay said Reddic offers some great tips.

Rochelle Harris-Brown just recently learned about the Rockford Ready initiative. She said she’s worked in nursing for about 40 years.

“So, all the things that was talked about today, I've experienced it firsthand,” she said. “You know, I've been on the other side, the provider, and I've been, now I'm on the other side. You know, I'm the patient.”

Picture from Rockford Ready townhall presentation
Yvonne Boose
Picture from Rockford Ready townhall presentation

She said the community is in dire need of knowing what resources are available.

Harris-Brown also said she wanted to see more young people at the town hall.

“Some of them are resources as well. And I think we really need to tap into that and give them something to do.”

Kay said the group is working with Comprehensive Community Solutions and the youth there have learned how to advocate for themselves.

“And then again, looking at the fact that these young people will then be passing on those same messages to the people they're connected with,” he said. “The younger folks, their little brothers and sisters, and really just trying to get that idea out into the community and being responsible for yourself responsible for your health care responsible for your behavior.”

Kay said the long-term commitment is to continue to make health literacy a priority by focusing on education and empowerment and continuing to have conversations with the community about health literacy. He is encouraging everyone to take proactive steps when it comes to advocating for their own health.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.