Making a difference in the world is the heartfelt passion of many. However, we all make a difference, not just out in the world, but in our own lives with every thought, word, and move we make — for good or ill. Every moment we have the choice to live in love or fear, to share or keep to ourselves, to eat well or poorly, to exercise or not.
Angela Stoltzenburg of Lincoln is making a difference through her passion for community health. As director of Community Health Collaborative (CHC) for the ALMH (Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital) Foundation, Angela is essentially encouraging people to make healthy choices.
The foundation exists to preserve the mission of the hospital — to improve the health of the people and communities it serves. “It’s about creating a culture of health in Logan County,” said Angela. They offer a variety of programs such as CATCH, which goes into schools promoting healthy food, activity and social behavior. They sponsor and coordinate the Farmers Market, offer educational opportunities and provide support groups.
Health care is more than responding to sickness. It is about cultivating a healthy lifestyle. One of the greatest challenges of CHC is getting the word out to those in most need, and that once reached, the hope is that they are inspired to make good choices. However, in order to make these choices, people first need to care about their health.
A current focus of CHC is the 2020 Community Health Needs Assessment. They work with the health department, and most importantly, talk directly to the public to determine the needs. “We talk to the everyday person to find out the barriers, and determine what we can do,” said Angela.
One of the questions Angela has asked is, ‘Why don’t residents access health care when they need it?’ “Financial concern is the biggest reason,” she said. “Yet, there is also a lack of concern or that health is not a priority.”
“We can do the programs in schools, put in a fitness center, put on the farmers market, but there needs to be the care for one’s health,” said Angela. “If we can’t get the overall culture to realize that health is important, and not just when you’re sick, then this is critical. One has to have the desire to make healthy choices.”
“So much is about relationship,” said Angela. “We have to humanize everything we do and figure how to encourage people to care about their health.”
It’s not a straightforward task. We are complex beings. Unlike creatures of the wild who naturally know how to care for themselves and don’t know how to be anything other than their true nature, we humans are affected by a multitude of things that influence our health, our behaviors, and the way we live.
Angela follows the Robert Wood Johnson model of health, which says that only 20% of our health is determined by clinical care. The other 80% is determined by our physical environment, social and economic factors, and health-related behaviors such as eating, smoking and sleeping.
“We are not just talking about eating healthy dinners,” said Angela, “but also graduating from high school and even the condition of our sidewalks.”
Everything affects our overall health, including our history. We are naturally shaped by our experiences. One of the things that Angela looks at when surveying health needs is the Adverse Child Experience (ACE).
“Adults with an ACE score of 4 or more are more likely to have poor health outcomes,” said Angela. A recent survey with adults revealed the following ACEs, in order of those most cited: 1) divorce or separation, 2) emotional abuse, 3) mental illness in household, 4) substance abuse, 5) physical abuse.
We are integrative beings — body, mind, and spirit. The state of one aspect affects the whole. The more we can understand ourselves, the better we can know our needs for optimum health. Importantly, the more grounded we feel in our everyday living then the better able we are to address these needs.
“There is a difference in surviving and thriving,” said Angela. “When you’re stuck in survival mode, you can’t thrive. You can give kids all the books in the world, but if they don’t have their basic needs met, it’s hard to thrive.”
Whether it’s about food, exercise, social behavior, or warning about vapes, the CHC encourages healthy choices for the whole community, from basic needs to supplemental offerings.
It’s a community effort, requiring champions to spread the message — partners that value the importance of health. Angela facilitates regular network meetings where individuals from the community come together to help determine what’s needed, share ideas, and announce current offerings.
It was obvious in my conversation with Angela, that she is living her passion. “It has always been important for me to know that I’m making a difference in service of others, and trying to improve the community that I’m living in,” she said. “This is where I belong, in community health.”
Angela’s college experience had a lot to do with shaping her path to community health. “In college I was an RA (resident assistant) and I feel like I’ve grown up to be an adult RA. I’m doing the same as I was in college,” she said, with a chuckle.
Angela went to Eastern Illinois University for a degree in health studies and a masters in business. “Eastern has an amazing RA program,” said Angela, “with great trainings such as the importance of diversity. I had great mentors. Having that experience as an RA really shaped me. It’s when I first realized what I enjoyed. I found my people — like-minded people who were also wanting to make the world a better place. That’s when I became me. I found stuff that mattered to me.”
“I’ve always had an innate sense to help people who need it,” said Angela. “I remember as a kid noticing others who were struggling and wanted to do something about it.” Angela is originally from upstate New York. Her family moved to Lincoln when she was a freshman in high school.
After college, Angela had a few business positions working in higher education, at Eastern and then Illinois State University. She enjoyed those positions, yet “I felt an angst, like I could do more, should be doing more.”
This angst was more than satisfied by taking on the position of executive director at Community Action in Lincoln. After nearly seven years of making a difference there, in 2012, Angela stepped into the position at ALMH Foundation. Our community is fortunate that Angela has followed her passion.
In fact, living with healthier choices can lead anyone to live with greater passion. And the more of us doing so, not only makes a difference in our own lives, but in the lives of others, ultimately creating a healthier community. How can it get better than that?
As Angela and I concluded our conversation, we concurred on the need to be patient with progress in the desire to make a difference in the world. “Small steps make a big difference,” I acknowledged. “And by the way,” added Angela, “walk the trails.”
Laura Elliott is a local writer and artist. She can be reached at [email protected]