Being a backbone

By Suzii Paynter March

It is October and the Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos skeletons are rattling. The fanciful boney creatures of October bring to mind the importance and central functions of a BACKBONE organization like Prosper Waco.

As a backbone organization, Prosper Waco can gather, support, and strengthen efforts across Greater Waco toward common – and critical – needs. Launching this month will be new support for crime prevention efforts across Waco.

The announcement of a Department of Justice grant for $1.46 million to Prosper Waco is an example of this part of our work. Federal funds will flow through PW and into various components of a broad community response to support the health and well-being of Waco. Grant funds will promote prevention efforts and violence interrupters, and this is coming at a time when violence is on the rise.

Prosper Waco will work with a range of organizations already targeting community wellness. By supporting smaller organizations and bringing them together to do mutually reinforcing activities, the work of one organization can complement the others.

Backbone organizations make communities stronger. There is a growing recognition of such organizations and their important role to catalyze change in communities. Recently, the Texas Health Institute studied more than 20 backbone organizations that are working to align health efforts around Texas. In their comprehensive report, they focus on lessons learned from these successful backbone efforts.

Prosper Waco is one of the five backbone organizations featured in the THI study. Prosper Waco is cited for the effective use of data and the strength of building layers of relationships throughout the community.

An Evaluation of Aligning Systems for Health in Texas: What Works, For Whom, and Under What Circumstances for Advancing Health Equity? Led by Texas Health Institute, this first-of-its-kind, large-scale evaluation of cross systems alignment efforts was funded by the Aligning Sectors for Health Initiative, coordinated by the Georgia Health Policy Center with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The purpose of this statewide evaluation was three-fold:

(1) to better understand how public health, health care, and social service sectors come together to work as a team for advancing health equity

(2) to produce a first-of-its-kind study of Texas’ landscape of cross-sector efforts, identifying promising practices, successes, challenges, and lessons learned

(3) to provide actionable guidance, tools, and resources to cross-sector coalitions and partners in Texas and nationally

The evaluation tests RWJF’s Aligning Sector for Health Theory of Change Model and provides an assessment of how cross-sector efforts function under various contexts, conditions, and circumstances. The findings will help community leaders, public health practitioners, funders, and advocates in cross-sector collaborative initiatives learn how to build and sustain public health, health care, and social service sector alignment for health equity.

Backbone. Celebrating the staff, board and supporters that keep this backbone of Prosper Waco strong.

Suzii Paynter March is CEO of Prosper Waco.