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.