(Re) Building A Healthy Community
Since Sterling High School burned down more than 40 years ago, the Sterling community has been in the perpetual ashes of that fire. Once a vibrant African-American community full of fellowship and pride, Sterling has been in the midst of a downward spiral that has negatively impacted all areas of life in the neighborhood. For the last 40 years, the community has faced gentrification, poverty, high crime, poor infrastructure, isolation, and poor health.
In 2008, the Bon Secours' Building Healthy Communities Initiative launched in Greenville and in all locations within Bon Secours. An initiative from Bon Secours Health System, Inc. that took more than 10 years of planning, dialogue, and preparation, the launch in Greenville sparked a renewed commitment to collaborating with Sterling and other local organizations in a way like never before.
This initiative was more than providing health screenings and coat drives. This initiative was a movement that's goal was to work together to find the root causes behind the problems the community faced rather than relieving short term symptoms.
The Torch Lit, A Community Engaged
Shortly after the Sterling Healthy Community Initiative in Greenville began, the Sterling Phoenix League was formed. The creation of the Sterling Phoenix League was an effort to both make the work more relevant to the Sterling neighborhood’s current conditions and history, as well as create an appeal for the broad audience outside of Sterling to get involved.
It Began with feet on the ground (in keeping with our Legacy of the Sisters of Bon Secours), walking the streets of the community, meeting with its residents where they live, and asking open ended questions. This provided a sense of what it's like to live, work, and play in the neighborhood. It also kept the initiative's perspective rooted in the perspective of the residents, meeting them where they are, before determining what paths and outcomes would work right away or not at all.
What We Heard: People want a safe community. People want a clean community. People want a fun community. People want to work. People and communities do not become "unhealthy" overnight, therefore impact cannot be expected in the short term. Rather, impact is "seeded" to provide long term sustainable change.
The Mission Became: Revitalize and systematically improve the Sterling Community through grassroots efforts and strategic collaborations, lead by the concerns and voices of the Sterling Community (i.e. residents and key stakeholders) so that Sterling is an affordable and healthy neighborhood for families, seniors, youth, and adults of various backgrounds.
How: A flexible and dynamic team, and an objective-oriented approach centered on key concerns and priorities identified by community input. All goals and master plans are created in close collaboration with the residents of Sterling. A "center-out" approach versus top-down or outside in. An example: the office for Community Relationship Building/Healthy Communities resides within the community's recreation center.
What We've Done
The Sterling Phoenix League has fulfilled its purpose of being a shot of adrenaline for our Healthy Community activity, raising awareness, support, and attention for our work in the community. The intent was and remains for us to co-create and facilitate the building of a healthy community with the residents and stakeholders so that future programs, projects, and changes are sustainable over the long term. We are more concerned with doing the right thing versus who gets the credit.