Since the early 1990s, Share Our Strength (SOS) has worked to provide access to healthy food to Colorado kids in need and teach their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. Cooking Matters Colorado (CMC), a program of SOS, empowers low-income families with the skills to stretch their food budgets and cook healthy meals so their children get nutritious food at home. Since 1994, CMC has reached over 100,000 families, helping provide education on how to shop for and prepare healthy, affordable meals. CMC partners with various organizations and instructors to assist in food education and training for low-income families across Colorado.
In 2016, CMC staff identified Local Health Champions (LHCs) as a promising model for furthering the mission of Share Our Strength and Partner Agencies and as a way to achieve Policy, Systems, and Environment change beyond direct education in places CMC is already doing work.
In the LHC model, a person supported by a partner organization and existing relationships in a community goes above and beyond direct education at the individual level. The champion role and activities can take many forms, including advocating for policy changes at the organizational or legislative levels, committee leadership to promote changes to environment or practices in a given community (e.g. healthy offerings for school meals or a change in layout of a grocery store), or arranging a walking group or “supper club” to promote healthy eating and activity living while building social connections.
In December 2016, Mission Spark was brought on to assist the development of SOS/CMC’s Local Health Champion Initiative. Namely, Mission Spark was to research design and best practices for the program, develop supportive tools and training to support the launch of the program, and create tools for evaluation of the impact of the program over time.
Mission Spark made sure to prepare the project thoroughly by facilitating a project design session and interviewing staff to ensure all parties were in alignment with the scope, plan, and vision of work for the LHC initiative. Then, research work could begin; Mission Spark conducted research on best practices related to various types of local health champions, sharing it with SOS/CMC in an actionable format. The lessons learned from these practices gave the insight to inform the LHC Initiative design.
Using the research and working closely with staff, Mission Spark developed an actionable toolkit for LHCs and a PowerPoint presentation for training LHCs. Mission Spark also provided strategic guidance by recommending a proposed roll out and feedback with partners to further refine the toolkit and training. Mission Spark co-facilitated a pilot training run with Cooking Matters Partners, and then finalized the toolkit and training. In the final phase of Mission Spark’s work with the LHC Initiative, a data collection process was proposed for program evaluation, which was based on the unique attributes of the Colorado communities that were engaged.
Mission Spark gave valuable guidance and support to the LHC Initiative’s development. Mission Spark created the LHC partner implementation guide that contained the information needed to develop and sustain Local Health Champion Initiatives, along with a training presentation and a high-quality program evaluation process. This is important as CMC had a vision that each LHC would serve as a bridge and a voice for healthy eating in their community, motivated to improve healthy food environments and policies for Colorado families.