The Next Big Idea in Well-being? It’s Knitting

The United States of America is nearing its 250th birthday. When you think about the rise and fall of the world’s great civilizations, most barely make it to 200. Some think America might be in decline—and, you don’t have to go far for some supporting facts.

Life expectancy has dropped each of the last two years – something unprecedented just a decade ago. And, 142,000 Americans, the highest number ever recorded, died from alcohol- and drug-induced fatalities and suicide – an average of one every four minutes—in 2016. The deaths of despair are touching every aspect of our society and growing.

While you don’t have to look too hard to find damning statistics, you also don’t have to look far for stories of hope and well-being. In fact, there are bright spots in American communities everywhere, they just need to be lifted up, invested in, and further supported. This is the genesis of an initiative we at Well Being Trust are calling Well Being Legacy.

At this pivotal moment in American history—amidst mounting challenges, partisan gridlock, and deep despair—this initiative looks to places across the country where ordinary people routinely confront shared challenges and reach across differences to enrich health and well-being as a whole community.

Here’s just two examples:

  • Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) was developed in Kentucky in 2007 as a Child Protective Services program for families with parental substance use disorders and issues of child abuse and/or neglect to help parents achieve sobriety and keep children with parents when possible and safe. The program uses case manager and family mentor teams to support a small number of families and provides home visits, mentorships, peer support, intensive treatment, child welfare services and subsidies for child care and transportation. Mothers who participated in START achieved sobriety at nearly twice the rate of mothers treated without START and children in START families were half as likely to be placed in state custody as compared with children in a matched control group. For every dollar spent on START, Kentucky avoided spending $2.22 on foster care.
  • Crittenton Children’s Center at Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri developed Head Start-Trauma Smart (HSTS) to help children, ages 3 to 5, handle complex trauma (violence, arrest/incarceration, substance misuse, homelessness, death and others). HSTS therapists provide training for all of the people (caregivers, Head Start staff, daycare providers, neighbors, grandparents, etc.) who are part of a child’s life to help the child identify and share feelings; and classroom consultation to teachers and children, during which the therapist is able to bring skill-based training into the classroom. The model also includes intensive individual trauma-focused intervention, short therapy sessions and peer-based mentoring for teachers and others to help sustain progress.

These are just two examples. The underlying premise of all the policies, programs, and people we are looking to lift up is there are things working in communities across the country. What we need now is to knit together this progress comprehensively and build a culture of well-being—exactly what Well Being Legacy is about.

As we approach our 250th birthday, our history is calling on us to build on our bright spots and transcend party boundaries to ensure everyone can be well. This is a call to rise up—and provide the strategic investments and support to the individuals already working to move this work forward and bring it to state houses and Washington, D.C.

Funders—all kinds—have a unique role to play by intentionally investing in programs, people and places that are working to improve health and well-being, setting the stage for others to do the same. Our legacy, after all, will be what we leave behind.

Lastly, we have a responsibility to learn from one another and build upon each other’s successes.  WBT is particularly interested in discovering and lifting up your bright spots and tapping into your expertise on what drives and sustains systemic change.

Tyler Norris, MDiv is the Chief Executive at Well Being Trust.