Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan

1545 Buchanan Avenue SW, Suite 2 Grand Rapids, MI 49507

With funding from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, NCHH awarded 15 $5,000 Lead Poisoning Awareness Community Mini-Grants in 2017. These grants were for community events focused on raising awareness, engaging community leaders in advocacy, or motivating policy change around lead poisoning prevention.

The initial goal of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan’s mini-grant project was to bring together community leaders and the public around a growing lead problem in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lead poisoning has increased by 40% in three key zip codes in the past two years, one of those zip codes having the most lead poisoned children in the state (more than Flint, Detroit).

However, given local dynamics as the community also works through a housing crisis and fears of gentrification, the strategy team decided that it would be best to focus solely on parents and building their voice and leadership capacity at this time. Particularly on the heels of a massive $10 million neighborhood development process being shut-down by disaffected neighbors, they did not believe it was the appropriate time to bring community leaders from outside of the neighborhood to the affected community to promote their solutions for the problem. They instead decided to focus on listening to parents and others from the affected community, and to build their voice on the issue.

As a result, the Healthy Homes Coalition focused upon a parent “Speak Out” as the cornerstone of our campaign, followed immediately by earned media work to get the rest of the community engaged in the discussion. Fortuitously, the Kent County Lead Task Force, which has been meeting for a year, then released their draft report three weeks later. This afforded the emerging parent leaders the opportunity to respond and more fully shape the discussion. Since then, elements of the 10 Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure report have been incorporated into the County Task Force Report—most notably recommendations 2 and 3 (remove lead-based paint hazards and enforce RRP).

To ensure this was an authentic meeting held by parents, for parents, the Healthy Homes Coalition worked with eleven parents to build their knowledge and skills prior to the meeting so that they could serve as parent facilitators. Those parents elected to only invite three trusted media sources to the event (“no TV cameras”), and limit their invitations to four key elected officials—two of whom attended. The mayor and one city commissioner from the district declined the invitation. Attending were the second city commissioner (who co-chairs the County Lead Task Force) and the county commissioner from that district. Strong relationships were built with the latter that night.

47 community members attended and gave their input to a “parent plan” that has empowered parent leadership to move forward speaking out on the issues on behalf of the community. The Healthy Homes Coalition then followed up with an earned media campaign the following week that garnered 17 media mentions.

Since the Speak Out, Healthy Homes Coalition staff have continued to convene parents and is partnering with them to sharpen messaging and advocacy. Nine organized parents participated and shared a distinct message about improving communication with parents and the affected community with the Kent County Task Force when it conducted two community meetings to discuss their draft recommendations for addressing lead poisoning in Kent County. Parent messaging was amplified as they quickly acted to ensure that media coverage of the meetings included their perspective.

The parent group continues to meet to determine strategy and next steps for protecting children in the most heavily impacted communities. It is the development of this grassroots support that is the most valuable takeaway from this project, along with strategically disruptive media stories that have generated a great deal of conversation in the local community about the problem and the need for new and enhanced solutions.
The Healthy Homes Coalition is leveraging these early steps to work in partnership with parents to engage community leaders. One-on-ones with the foundation community and local political leaders and key government staff are in process for the purpose of focusing problem solving on getting homes tested, getting homes fixed, and enforcing RRP.

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