5 Questions With Wholespire
April 21, 2022
We believe all South Carolinians should have access to healthy choices. People can prevent or manage diabetes, heart disease and other health issues when they have access to healthy foods and options for healthy living. That’s why, in 2007, the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation helped fund a new local nonprofit called Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC). Through new coalitions and focused work on advocacy, community action, youth engagement and consumer awareness, ESMMSC set out to advance community-led change to make the healthy choice the easy choice for every person in the Palmetto State. Over the last 15 years, the nonprofit has expanded its reach to 31 counties, collectively reaching 93 percent of South Carolina’s population.
The Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project® encourages youth advocates to make a difference in the lives of people in their communities.
In 2021, ESMMSC changed its name to Wholespire, a name that executive director Meg Stanley says reflects how coming together to increase access to wellness in communities creates unification and wholeness. We sat down with Stanley to learn more about Wholespire and its local-level health initiatives in our state.
Meg Stanley, executive director
What is the mission of Wholespire? Has this mission evolved over the years? If so, how?
Wholespire’s mission is to provide communities with proven and sustainable approaches to increase access to healthy choices for all people. Our mission hasn’t changed much over our 15-year history. We’ve always focused on increasing access to healthy food and safe places for physical activity. We updated it to reflect a more holistic approach to improving health outcomes. While healthy weight through healthy eating and active living remain a cornerstone of Wholespire’s work, we recognize community work must address such factors as social determinants of health.
What inspired the name change from Eat Smart Move More South Carolina to Wholespire?
Just as our mission has slightly changed over the years, so has our work. We are about more than just healthy eating and active living. We needed a new name that reflected the depth of our reach, the connection to chronic diseases, and the potential for us, our chapters and our HYPE teams to work with new and diverse partners from other chronic disease areas of public health.
We love our new name. It represents how working together to improve community wellness provides a sense of togetherness and wholeness that is distributed fairly. Our new name reflects our desire to make a long-term difference for the many people in our state who lack access to essential health services. As we inform, engage and influence decision-makers to incorporate health in policy decisions, it's a reminder to make whole health a possibility for all South Carolinians.
What are some accomplishments within local communities you are most proud of?
Through the rebranding process, we have had the chance to assess how we serve local communities. We have 13 active chapters and are focusing our staff efforts on providing support and training to them. We are proud they continue to trust us to equip them to do great work in their communities. Examples of work we’re proud to support include the following:
- We teamed with two groups that help the addiction and recovery communities through minigrants, funding by the Foundation, to incorporate physical activity into mental health programs. A walking track was built in York, and a basketball court was built in Spartanburg. The walking track and basketball court, according to reports from those organizations, have helped increase morale and a sense of belonging and offered patients and families an outlet to deal with stress and isolation.
- When a grantee continues its work after the funding ends, it understands sustainability. It’s something we encourage, and that’s what happened in Bamberg County. The HYPE Project encourages youth advocates to make a difference in the lives of people in their communities. We funded the HYPE team to make park improvements in the City of Bamberg. After completing the project, HYPE team leaders partnered with Saltcatcher Farms to create the Saltcatcher Youth Leadership Program. Many of the HYPE team members joined the program and participate in FoodShare distributions and other community gardening and service projects around the county.
- The Wholespire Aiken County coalition has recently agreed to lead a community health improvement plan (CHIP) process in their community. This process will allow Wholespire Aiken County to identify and address public health issues based on the results of a community health assessment. We are excited to see more of our Wholespire chapters get involved in the CHIP process and help lead healthy eating and active living (HEAL) efforts in their communities.
What current or upcoming projects are you most excited about?
- Promoting Equity Among Coalitions Effectively (PEACE) training: This is the second year Wholespire and the South Carolina Office of Rural Health have teamed up to offer interactive coalition leadership training through funding from the Foundation. That is followed up with custom technical help for action planning and implementation. PEACE training focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion and helps participants examine their personal biases and how those biases affect the choices they make in their work.
- HEAL minigrants: The next request for proposals (RFP) for HEAL minigrants will be released in June. This is also funded through the Foundation. In the last few months, we have been reviewing the grant process, including gathering a focus group of funders to help us create a more equitable process, increase technical assistance capacity and improve local health outcomes. We’re looking forward to seeing how we can improve the diversity of our applications and funding opportunities.
- The HYPE Project is celebrating its 10th anniversary! HYPE has a new logo and look as part of the organization’s rebranding efforts. It is undergoing a complete evaluation and will reveal an updated curriculum this summer. Wholespire is encouraging chapters and partner coalitions to engage youth in local community work. We believe youth provide a unique perspective on the needs of their communities and can be strong leaders in community health improvement.
How has support from the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation helped Wholespire in its mission?
Something communities seriously need, especially rural communities, is money to give community members the physical activity outlets and healthy food sources they so desperately want and need. Thanks to the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, Wholespire has been able to provide minigrants to these communities across the state. We’ve funded recreation departments, schools, youth groups, municipalities and a host of other community-focused entities.
A minigrant is often a catalyst to form a coalition focusing on health outcomes beyond the term of the minigrant. These projects have led to capacity-building opportunities at the state and local levels, including training, partnerships and leveraging of funds. The state-level partnerships created as a result of recent support are leading to increased capacity to support the state health improvement plan.
We are very appreciative of the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation’s willingness to provide operational support to the initiatives we fund. Much of the support passed on to the local coalitions comes from staff expertise in the form of training or coaching as coalitions plan and apply sustainable approaches to health.
Learn more about Wholespire and its mission by visiting www.wholespire.org.
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