2020 All-America City Finalist – Roanoke, VA

Roanoke’s civic infrastructure is focused on making a “collective impact” enabling it to effectively address complex issues by employing grassroots, collaborative, data driven, evidence-based and comprehensive framework. This approach established nationally recognized programs such as an early childhood learning initiative, addressing the opioid crisis and enhancing access to health care.  Roanoke organizers have abandoned an “organizational driven approach” in favor of a “community activation approach.” Leaders from Roanoke’s government, healthcare and nonprofit agencies practice more effective resident engagement collectively creating better conditions of health and well-being.

The depth and effectiveness of Roanoke’s civic infrastructure is evidenced in their highlighted projects.

Improved Access to Health Care
Respondents of the Roanoke Community Health Needs Assessment listed “access to care” as a barrier to good health. With this shared understanding of access challenges, Healthy Roanoke Valley was formed to include more than 50 organizations focused on the social determinants of health.

Initiatives guided by Healthy Roanoke Valley include:

  • Pathways Hub – Healthy Roanoke Valley brought together executives from the city’s health safety net to address the obstacles keeping their neighbors from receiving quality care. The Pathways Hub pairs those at greatest risk with neighborhood-based community care workers who work with them to coordinate their care. Pathways might include “prescriptions” for healthy foods, rides to the doctor’s office, exercise or techniques to manage diabetes. Since its inception, more than 249 community members have participated in the program with promising results.
  • Local Impact for Tomorrow – Carilion Hospital, Roanoke City Public Schools, Freedom First Credit Union and a dental benefits carrier are partnering together to build the Southeast Community Health Center at the new Fallon Park Elementary School in southeast Roanoke. When completed, this facility, will provide medical and wellness services to students and the community, oral health care, and financial counseling as well as educational and job training programs.
  • Community Health Clinics – A network of free and income-based clinics exist in Roanoke, ensuring access to quality health care nearest where the most vulnerable live. Most recently, the Bradley Free Clinic expanded its behavioral health offerings, immediately adding 150 clients, serviced by more than 20 new volunteers.

Improved Access to Fresh Food
As a result of 17% of residents in Roanoke being food-insecure and 24% living in food deserts, the Local Environmental Action Project (LEAP) was formed with a mission to “nurture healthy communities and resilient local food systems.”

Initiatives of this nonprofit have included:

  • A year-round, community market in Roanoke’s impoverished West End area.
  • The LEAP Mobile Market, where a box truck filled with local, healthy food makes weekly stops in low-income, low-access neighborhoods.
  • A shared commercial kitchen and food business incubator, which also serves as a venue for dozens of public classes on cooking and food preservation.
  • A resident-driven urban farm in southeast Roanoke.
  • The Fresh Foods Rx program provides weekly health education and coaching sessions with health professionals as well as regular prescriptions to receive fresh, local food for no cost.

With financial support from Carilion Clinic, LEAP initiated several programs focused on making healthy local food more affordable.

  • SNAP Double Value – People who participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can double their SNAP benefits at LEAP markets.
  • Medicaid Match – With LEAP’s Medicaid Match, all Medicaid members can get double the value on purchases at LEAP Farmers Markets.
  • Healthy Food Vouchers – As part of the Healthy Start Collaborative parents can receive $10 vouchers each week to buy fresh produce. Parents of children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program can likewise receive $10 each week for the purchase of fresh, local food.  Additionally, seniors located within a Medically Underserved Area are eligible to receive food vouchers.

Enhanced Neighborhoods
Roanoke has begun focusing federal funding on targeted neighborhoods to see a greater impact by leveraging the funding with money from businesses and area nonprofits. As part of the process, each month, residents of the Melrose and Orange Avenue area and other stakeholders meet to provide input and receive updates about development.

Improvements include:

Safe Housing – Over a hundred homes have been renovated or constructed, all benefitting very low to low income residents. Additionally, Lead Safe Roanoke has cut lead poisoning risks in 499 homes.

New Library Branch – Melrose Branch has been constructed through a partnership between the City and Goodwill Industries of the Valley. The branch includes 30 new computers, a STEM lab and a small business center.

Community Solutions Center – The center serves as a location for community members to gather and address issues of importance to them and work toward solutions.

Community Build Barrier-Free Playground – The Roanoke Kiwanis Club will open a $400,000, barrier-free playground located next to the new Melrose library branch.

Business District Enhancements – The neighborhood’s business district will benefit from replaced sidewalks, enhanced landscaping and bus shelters.  Each of these enhancements was the result of a series of meetings and design workshops with the adjacent business owners and area residents, led by architecture and urban planning students from nearby Virginia Tech University.

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