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The Collective for Health Equity and Well-Being

Cooperative Extension’s Collective for Health Equity and Well-Being is a community of Extension personnel and their partners united by their shared commitment to advancing health equity and well-being. Members work together to support the implementation of Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health Equity and Well-Being (2021) to ensure that all people can be as healthy as they can be.

Belonging and Civic Muscle - A Vital Condition, An Extension Opportunity


When viewing the vital conditions framework, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the categories and get lost in thinking about your role in changing any one, or many of the conditions in the community. But, if we look at the conditions as an opportunity to speak to the work that we do as a system, it becomes something that feels right in the work that we do day in and day out, and maybe is the least "measured" in the people counting, and knowledge, attitudes and beliefs surveys many of us do as part of reporting (those who are on federal grants know this all too well!).

While Extension's work can be seen interwoven into all of the vital conditions, one that exemplifies the work that Well Connected Communities specifically is founded on is the condition of belonging and civic muscle. The idea that in order to thrive, there must be inspirational people and places that drive us to take ownership of where we live, learn, work, play and pray. The notion that the community is owned by the residents that live there, not the political parties that zone it, or the organizations that study it is not something that is new, but it is something that is important to keep at the forefront of community health work. And while this work may not be the numbers that are reported, it is some of the most important work all of the Extension staff do on a daily basis. Lending an ear in the class on nutrition to hear about someone's challenges with paying rent or getting the food that they need to practice what we preach, being on-site with a community partner to assist in building and harvesting a community garden, empowering youth to create their own change in the through clubs and projects that improve access to food, building a volunteer system that empowers lay leaders to be community change agents, and guiding coalitions and networks in the tough conversations about challenges, and the celebratory ones about successes around vital community conditions  - these are all part of the job. These are the most important parts of the job, of the work that is being done by agents and staff across the country to create healthier communities. This is the foundation needed to continue to make changes now and in the future.  The challenge for all of us is to remember that this isn't the stuff that we do when we have the time, this is the foundation for the change we are trying to make. This is the "reporting" we need to do, the stories we need to tell and the depth of community partnerships we need to strive to have - building belonging and civic muscle assists each of us in developing our skills around diversity, equity and inclusion, and it creates communities where are all are invited, and all are empowered to own their spaces in order to achieve better health.

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Possible indicators for including in planning and producing narrative "stories" and outcome/impact "reports" of social and community change across vital conditions, including belonging and civic muscle,  align nicely with a social justice lens. Indicators of change include access (equity & inclusion-who does/doesn't have access & why), agency (intentions and choices), advocacy (voice and skills), and solidarity actions (participates and work toward) for change. The processes of systems/community change include participatory democracy, civil society, transformative practices, and systemic change. A simple tool is available for educators:

About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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