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2022 REACH Lark Award Challenge Winners

At a glance

The REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge recognizes extraordinary individuals, organizations, or community coalitions associated with the REACH program. Two Lark Awards were given in 2022. Healthy Savannah received the organizational award, and Thamara Labrousse received the individual award. REACH is CDC's Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program.

Group from Healthy Savannah on a nature walk.

Organizational award—Healthy Savannah

The Healthy Savannah initiative began in 2007 with the leadership of Mayor Otis Johnson. He sought to make the Georgia city a healthier place to live, learn, work, and play.

Mayor Johnson had a heart attack in 2006, He knew that the risk of heart disease is higher among African American and Hispanic/Latino adults than other adults. His work to bring people together from many sectors to create a culture of health led to the creation of Healthy Savannah.

In 2018, Healthy Savannah partnered with the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, and together they were selected as a REACH recipient. REACH provided resources and expertise to create healthier nutrition and physical activity environments while focusing on achieving health equity and reducing health disparities.

Savannah is a tight-knit community with people committed to keeping it healthy and strong, said Paula Kreissler, Healthy Savannah executive director. Yet asking the community about their needs revealed that many residents have food insecurity, live in food deserts, and lack access to places to be physically active. Data also showed higher rates of chronic disease in neighborhoods with mostly African American residents.

Listening to the community's needs drove Healthy Savannah to focus on improving physical activity and nutrition. The group created programs such as:

Healthy Walks (pictured above)
Encourages community members to walk through neighborhoods, local trails, and historic areas.

Active People, Healthy Savannah
As part of CDC's Active People, Healthy NationSM initiative, helped create 30 miles of urban trails through Tide to Town Trail.

Healthy Checkout Initiative
Partnered with local grocery stores so shoppers can easily see fruit or other healthy options instead of candy near the checkout.

FarmTruck 912
Mobile farmers market brings local, affordable seasonal fruits and vegetables to Savannah neighborhoods. FarmTruck912 accepts and doubles the benefits of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP) and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT).

Individual award—Thamara Labrousse

For Thamara Labrousse, Miami Gardens, Florida, is a beautiful, resilient, and strong city with a rich history and culture and an engaged community.

With more than 113,000 residents, it is the third largest city in Miami-Dade County and the largest predominantly African American city in Florida. The city also has high rates of some chronic diseases. City leaders are committed to making Miami Gardens a healthier place for people to live, work, and play.

In 2014, Miami Gardens partnered with the Health Foundation of South Florida to launch Live Healthy Miami Gardens (LHMG). The coalition includes 46 member organizations and more than 100 individuals. They work collectively for citywide changes that improve health and life expectancy. The coalition is dedicated to serving African American and Hispanic residents.

Ms. Labrousse was asked to become the LHMG program director because of her extensive experience with community engagement projects. In 2018, LHMG became a funded recipient of the REACH program.

Two people at a table with radio microphones in front of them.
Thamara Labrousse, right, in a radio interview about increasing access to healthy food.

Under Ms. Labrousse's leadership, LHMG works to remove barriers associated with racial and ethnic health disparities while listening to and engaging the community at every step. Planning includes time for community outreach and data collection to allow community involvement, buy-in, and decision-making.

Thamara Labrousse ‎

"This work is all about community. You can't effectively do without the very people who are the most impacted by the problem being at the table. . . It can be very complex, and many days it may not feel like you are accomplishing anything, but keep going. If you keep showing up and trying, you will eventually find success."—Thamara Labrousse

LHMG has helped increase access to healthy foods, opportunities for physical activity, and access to primary health care services and mental health resources. For example, LHMG worked with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to set up, support, and reinforce nutrition and healthy eating wellness policies in 25 Miami Gardens schools. LHMG and the schools also developed a Safe Routes to Schools plan. The plan will help create a safe environment around schools and promote the ability to walk or bike to school. In addition, the coalition has carried out evidence-based strategies to address the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.