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Aetna Foundation’s New Awards Shine the “Spotlight” on Programs That Are Improving Community Health

January 31, 2018 | Community

From Complete Streets to Community Gardens: 10 Cities and Counties Recognized for Programs Making Progress in Addressing Social Determinants of Health

HARTFORD, Conn. — The Aetna Foundation today announced 10 community health programs nationwide that are receiving their newly-launched "Spotlight Award." The award is part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge (the Challenge), an initiative launched in 2016 that supports 50 small-to-midsize cities and counties that are implementing innovative solutions to pressing public health issues in their communities. Along with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Aetna Foundation selected these 50 programs because of their ability to tackle social determinants of health (SDoH) that frequently lead to chronic health issues.

The 10 Spotlight awardees will receive a $25,000 prize to further support their Challenge programs, which will help build sustainable models that can be used in other communities. In addition, five more organizations will receive a $10,000 prize as Honorable Mention awardees to help accelerate and advance their work. Some of the notable achievements from awardees include:

  • The iGrow Food Network distributed more than 100 pounds of produce grown in local community gardens during the summer of 2017, reaching more than one-third of the target population in food deserts in Tallahassee, Florida.
  • Walk Works ChesCo! created new walking routes in Chester County, Pennsylvania to encourage residents to walk more and adopt a healthier lifestyle. The community successfully reached their goal of walking one billion steps in 2017 in just six months.

"Where a person lives has a profound impact on how they live – particularly when it comes to their health," said Mark T. Bertolini, the chairman of the Aetna Foundation and chairman and CEO of Aetna. "The Spotlight Award recipients are outstanding examples of how important progress can be made when communities work together to look at the biggest issues facing their neighborhoods and develop healthy, home-grown solutions."

Through the Challenge, $1.5 million in prizes will be awarded to cities and counties that are able to show measurable improvements in health outcomes over the course of several years through cross-sector partnerships. The Challenge is designed to enable participants to share successful health improvement strategies with other communities.

"Since the Challenge launched, we have seen numerous improvements and advancements in the health of the 50 participating communities," said APHA executive director Georges C. Benjamin, MD. "The Spotlight Awards are a moment to showcase the innovative work being done in cities and counties to address social determinants of health."

The goal of the Spotlight Award is to highlight early success stories from participants that have demonstrated significant progress since the launch of the Challenge. The selected programs have identified creative partnerships and enacted programs that address the unique health issues facing their communities in meaningful ways.

"Communities invest heavily in local residents' health and well-being, often serving as a safety net for low-income and vulnerable residents," said NACo president Roy Charles Brooks. "We know just as each community is unique, so too are the health challenges they face. These award winners are examples of what can be achieved when counties work with community partners to solve serious, complex public health issues."

In 2016, the Challenge chose 50 cities and counties as HealthyCommunity50 members based on their plans to improve local health outcomes. The HealthyCommunity50 continue to compete for overall Challenge prize awards ranging from $25,000 – $500,000. Participants will be judged on their own progress and will not be competing against each other.

Spotlight Award Winners

Bridgeport Coalition United to Reach Equity
Greater Bridgeport Opportunities Industrialization Center Inc., Connecticut
Program Goal: Increase health equity

iGrow Food Network
Florida Department of Health
Program Goal: Decrease food inequality

Live Healthy Little Havana
City of Miami, Florida
Program Goal: Increase health care access

Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government
West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative, Kentucky
Program Goal: Increase mental wellness and healthy behaviors

The SMART Initiative
Coopers Ferry Partnership, New Jersey
Program Goal: Increase water quality

Chatham Health Alliance
Chatham County Public Health Department, North Carolina
Program Goal: Decrease obesity

Village HeartBEAT
Mecklenburg County Health Department, North Carolina
Program Goal: Decrease heart disease

The Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition
Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, Texas
Program Goal: Increase access to, and consumption of, fresh foods

Health Collaborative
Danville Pittsylvania County United Fund, Virginia
Program Goal: Increase healthy living

Active Design for a Healthier Thurston County
Thurston County Public Health & Social Services, Washington
Program Goal: Increase walkability

Honorable Mention

Food is Medicine
City of St. Petersburg, Florida
Program Goal: Increase access, availability and procurement of healthy foods

Be Well, B'More
Baltimore City Health Department, Maryland
Program Goal: Increase physical activity

Blue Print for Violence Reduction
City of Jersey City, New Jersey
Program Goal: Increase healthy behaviors to decrease violence

The North Carolina Healthiest Counties Cross-Sector Team
Duke University: Durham and Cabarrus Counties, North Carolina
Program Goal: Increase health equity

Walk Works ChesCo!
Chester County, Pennsylvania
Program Goal: Increase walking

For more information on the winners, visit and join the conversation at #HealthiestCitiesChallenge.

The Aetna Foundation is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna (NYSE: AET). Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed more than $465 million in grants and sponsorships. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered 3.8 million hours since 2003. For more information, visit

The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the profession of public health, share the latest research and information, promote best practices and advocate for public health issues and policies grounded in research. We are the only organization that combines a 140-plus year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public's health. Visit us at

The National Association of Counties (NACo) unites America's 3,069 county governments. Founded in 1935, NACo brings county officials together to advocate with a collective voice on national policy, exchange ideas and build new leadership skills, pursue transformational county solutions, enrich the public's understanding of county government and exercise exemplary leadership in public service. For more information, visit

Media Contacts:

Ethan Slavin

BRG Communications
Katy Frame