In Our View: Health Group Blazed Trails

Report card for Community Choices: A+ for a 20-year job well done

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Much of what Clark County residents heard from Community Choices over the past 20 years was not pleasant to hear. Many of us smoke, or drink too much, and too many of us make a bathroom scale whir like a tachometer on a Ferrari.But Community Choices always had our best interests -- specifically, our better health -- in mind. The local health-oriented nonprofit group devoted countless hours to surveying and numbers-crunching, continually and carefully delineated worrisome health trends in the community, and helped us take better care of ourselves. Their reports were captivating and motivational. The leaders and volunteers have always been cheerful and inspirational.

So it is with considerable regret that we see Community Choices deciding to close shop and let other organizations carry the healthful-tips torch. Board Chairwoman Marni Storey, who also is interim director of the Clark County Public Health Department, issued a statement that said in part: "After much soul-searching, we decided that Community Choices has done what it set out to do: to raise awareness and provide a data-driven spotlight on the overall health of our community."

A story in last Wednesday's Columbian listed many of the organization's milestones over the years: establishing the SWIFT Dental Clinic for the uninsured in 1998; creating numerous Family Resource Centers in Vancouver schools; providing social-service resources for needy students and families; collecting, analyzing and distributing health and wellness data in seven Community Report Cards; establishing a Food Systems Council to improve access to high-quality food; encouraging the growth of community gardening; publishing a healthy lifestyle "Walk Around Guide" and supporting other parks and trails initiatives; and encouraging the passage of statewide Initiative 901 in 2005, which bans smoking in public indoor places.

That's only a fraction of the contributions Community Choices made in Clark County. So thorough was the research and so compelling were the messages that the Centers for Disease Control chose Community Choices as the only non-public health agency in the nation to receive a $3 million Steps to a Healthier U.S. grant. That led to numerous community-based intervention programs to fight diabetes, obesity, asthma, poor nutrition, tobacco use and physical inactivity.

We've often editorialized in praise of Community Choices, and the value of the organization's work is quickly seen in headlines such as "Let's Walk More," "Better Eating Habits" and "Local students' eating habits are threatening their health." But it's difficult to describe in a single report the magnitude of great advice that has been dispatched in our community.

The closing of Community Choices does not mean the end of the organization's crusade. John Wiesman, the new director of the Washington State Department of Public Health and former Clark County health director, was quoted in the Columbian story: "I'm confident this community will pick up the torch so we can continue on the path to a healthier, more vibrant future."

And there's a second way the work of Community Choices will continue to guide local residents. You can still find annual reports, county report cards and other helpful information about public health and personal choices by visiting the website http://clarkcommunitychoices.org.

Congratulations to a fine organization for two decades of improving the local quality of life.