Deadline nears for community to participate in poll to determine which issues to tackle first

What would make Homer healthier?

That question was addressed by 39 health-care providers, agency representatives, teachers and concerned community members last Friday, but the focus of the meeting was much more specific.

“The purpose (of the meeting) is to help identify the leading issue we as a community would like to work on for community health improvement,” said Derotha Ferraro of South Peninsula Hospital and a member of the MAPP, Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnerships, steering committee that has taken the effort.

Since implementing a MAPP-designed approach in 2008, Homer gradually has been sharpening the focus on what it means to be a healthy community. A 2010 assessment pointed to three general areas of community concern: connecting community resources, addressing substance abuse and domestic violence, and promoting healthy lifestyles and choices.

A group addressing connecting community resources initially considered developing a location to bring resources together, said Patty Boyle of the Independent Living Center. A more realistic approach was creation of an online resource guide that now is in need of updating. Another goal of that group was to prepare a booklet for emergency food/housing providers that listed resources available.

Jessica Lawmaster of Haven House described accomplishments of a group addressing substance abuse and domestic violence.

“There was a neat evolution in the past month of how those two issues are not independent of each other, but are issues that co-occur,” said Lawmaster.

The group has begun exploring the impact of adverse childhood experiences and what it means to be a trauma-informed community.

“Essentially it means a community that understands the root causes of trauma, understands effects of trauma and also is committed to become a community that better responds to trauma and individuals,” Lawmaster said.

The group also has been working with the Homer Prevention Project to reduce underage drinking and adult binge drinking, the Green Dot program’s focus on bystander intervention, and Best Beginnings, “an initiative to support early childhood anything, everything,” said Lawmaster.

Healthy lifestyles is the topic Jeff Szarzi, a teacher at Flex High School, has been exploring, including everything from the quality of school lunches to students growing, preparing and eating their own food.

“Six years ago the kids and I were looking at school lunches. … We started taking pictures of school lunches and posting them on Facebook. It ended up going viral and people were astounded at what was being served,” said Szarzi.

With the help of a grant, Szarzi and his students constructed a high tunnel and began a garden. The garden has expanded and provides employment for a small number of students. Every two weeks local chefs visit the school to show students what can be made from what they’re growing.

“We have salads every day now,” said Szarzi. “The quality has improved. … Kids look at food totally different now.

Continuing to follow the MAPP approach, a second assessment was completed in 2010, with input from more than 1,200 people. On Friday, attendees looked at seven themes emerging from that assessment:

  1. Economic and affordability issues, identified by 45.5 percent of survey responders as a roadblock separating them from available services, said Katie Koester with the city of Homer;
  2. Family issues, an area Dr. Rob Downey of Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness said includes such things as child care, educational opportunities for parents, addressing stress and “orchestrating an exchange of wisdom”;
  3. Substance abuse, identified as a No. 2 community concern and receiving “overwhelming feedback,” according to Lawmaster;
  4. Environmental issues, which can be difficult to define without a shared vision, said Beau Burgess, a Homer City Council member;
  5. Aging population and identifying what services and activities are lacking with the senior population expected to double within 15 years, according to Ferraro;
  6. Access to care and services, described by David Branding of South Peninsula Behavior Health Services as “being the convergence of availability and resources; and
  7. Quality of life, which refers to why it is people choose to live in Homer, said Rev. Lisa Talbot of Homer United Methodist Church.

Taking one of the themes at a time, those in attendance rated how serious the theme was as a community issue; how feasible it would be to address it community wide; the urgency of addressing the theme; the personal or professional ability of the responder to work on the theme; and how the theme aligns with the responder’s organization mission, vision and priorities.

A tally of the responses pointed to family issues as the top vote-getter, with a three-way tie for second between access to care and services, economics and affordability and environmental issues. Substance abuse was in third place, quality of life in fourth and aging population fifth. When asked which two themes those in attendance would prioritize for community-wide action, family issues was at the top of the list with economic issues in second.

 “We want this to be community driven,” said Sharon Whytal, of Homer Public Health, a member of the MAPP steering committee.

Megan Murphy, the MAPP coordinator, said the public has until May 30 to participate in the online poll. It can be accessed at

“The steering committee will be taking the results and having a conversation about what the next steps look like and how to keep engaging (the public) as we move through this process,” said Murphy.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at