Through the formation of the FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition, local partners have been working to address the needs identified by residents at the Franklinton Forum held in January.

In January, nearly 60 residents met in Franklinton, Louisiana, a town of about 3,700 residents, to discuss the challenges and barriers to health in the community. The forum was co-hosted by state Sen. Beth Mizell and the LSU AgCenter SNAP-Ed program.

As a result of the forum, community partners and residents launched the FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition. FOCUS stands for Franklinton Organized Community Unified Supports.

“FOCUS is a Healthy Communities coalition that seeks to engage community partners and residents of Franklinton in areas that encourage residents to adopt policy, systems and environmental changes that lead to a healthier community,” said Valerie Vincent, LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences regional coordinator.

“FOCUS Franklinton Healthy Community Coalition gives all of us a chance to bring a better quality of life with healthier outcomes to all of our residents,” Mizell said. “We care about the health of all. Let’s put action to those words. When we make it better for everybody, we all benefit.”

The FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition is working to make positive changes to help residents become healthier and ultimately improve the parish’s health rankings. The coalition has three main workgroups, with each addressing needs identified by the community: Healthy Habits, Community Engagement and Youth Voice.

For the Youth Voice committee, one of the projects is the Focus on Hydration project, which provides refillable water bottles for all students in Franklinton-area public schools. The coalition is providing water bottles as a tool for health and hydration during the current health crisis.

“For the FOCUS Coalition Youth Voice committee, this was our kickoff project. Our first youth project is providing water bottles to focus on hydration and will help to further build connections in the community,” said AgCenter nutrition educator Christi Mitchell.

Members of the FOCUS Coalition answered the call to provide more than 2,000 water bottles to students in Franklinton public schools. The donations of the refillable water bottles came from partner organizations Healthy Blue, the St. Tammany Health System and Ochsner Health.

“Healthy Blue is proud to partner with local community organizations to promote health and wellness through the Focus on Hydration project,” said Aaron Lambert, plan president for Healthy Blue. “We are grateful to provide our local students with tools and resources to encourage a healthy and productive lifestyle. Healthy Blue remains committed to the community during these uncertain times and it’s through these initiatives that we can continue to deliver on our mission of improving the lives and health of our communities.”

“St. Tammany Health System and Ochsner Health work together in partnership to improve our community’s health and quality of life, today and for the future, which is why we’re pleased to provide water bottles for school students in Washington Parish as part of the Focus on Hydration project,” added Michelle Belanger, of the St. Tammany and Ochsner health systems. “Together, we represent the most complete system of care, aligning west St. Tammany’s top two independent health leaders behind the common goals of reducing costs, improving access and expanding specialty care.”

Working with the committees are AgCenter staff, who are coordinating and facilitating the projects with community partners and residents using the Healthy Communities model.

“Thanks to FOCUS Franklinton, the LSU AgCenter, Healthy Blue and St. Tammany and Ochsner Health Systems for making this possible,” said school board member Frankie Crosby. “In today’s climate, with the sanitation and the pandemic, we cannot be safe enough. There is not enough that we can do to be safer and having these water bottles will go a long way to ensuring that our kids stay safe.”

Taleria Magee, vice principal of Franklinton High School said, “The water bottles will help us tremendously because our water fountains are unavailable due to COVID and this allows our students to be able to bring water to school with them.”

“The FOCUS Coalition is excited to be able to provide the water bottles to our youth so that they can remain hydrated and reinforce the skills learned from SNAP-Ed nutrition programs such as ‘Let’s Eat for the Health of It,’ ” Vincent said.

The group will be hosting a walk audit in Franklinton in November. For more information, contact the AgCenter at 985-839-7855. Community partners or residents interested in joining the coalition should contact Vincent at vvincent@agcenter.lsu.edu or Mizell’s office at 985-839-3936.

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