Community Engagement: A New Priority

“Henrico has set a priority for outreach and engagement to focus on how we communicate with our diverse, widespread citizens throughout the county.” Monica Smith-Callahan, Deputy County Manager of Community Affairs, recently shared those sentiments to describe the County’s strategic emphasis on community outreach. A newly restructured position for the county, the Deputy County Manager for Community Affairs fosters County relationships with governmental and nongovernmental organizations and collaborates across the community to assess and proactively respond to their needs.

When hired in February, Monica’s initial focus was on building connections with Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) to address student gaps and services beyond the classroom. With the County continuing to grow and become more diverse, the goal of the partnership was to provide all-encompassing support and services to Henrico students and families seeking resources from the County. However, her priorities soon shifted to support the County’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, the Community Affairs office partnered with Henrico County Government employees, HCPS and the County’s Advocate for the Aging to establish four outreach call centers to assist residents with COVID-19 questions and concerns. Employees from across the organization stepped in to lead and provide outstanding customer service and support to Henrico citizens often problem-solving and finding creative solutions to meet their critical needs.

The outreach call centers are still active, and many Henrico residents have benefitted from those services, including the County’s older residents. In April, the County’s Advocate for the Aging partnered with the Community Affairs office to launch an “EngAGing Conversations” telephone reassurance program, which offers friendly telephone contact for older adults who feel lonely or socially isolated. Telephone reassurance volunteers contact older adults on a regular basis and share resources. The program has garnered positive support from the public, and it is one of the many ways that Monica and her team have collaborated across the organization to reach out to the community.

The Community Affairs office partnered with the Police Division and the Division of Fire in May to distribute COVID care kits to over 20,000 homes in Henrico County using GIS mapping and data to identify communities in need. With the support of public safety employees, 600 volunteers canvassed neighborhoods over the course of three weekends to distribute care kits across the County. The Division of Fire supported similar efforts by distributing face coverings and care kits to residents in apartment complexes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Monica is proud of how the County has responded to the pandemic, and she believes that the COVID-19 community engagement efforts have fostered a spirit of innovation in our organization. “We now know how we can innovate and create on the fly. This crisis has showed us that we can literally do anything if we all band together… and we did.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique opportunities for the County to respond to the growing needs of Henrico residents. In recent months, Monica’s office has established public-private partnerships with numerous community organizations to mobilize food services, care kits and provide transportation to citizens which she believes is “nothing short of amazing.” Henrico County Public Schools, non-profits, and various community organizations have also supported the community to include donating building space to store food donations and providing financial support where needed. The COVID-19 pandemic has forged new connections between the Community Affairs office and HCPS. Monica’s office recently collaborated with HCPS to mobilize food support to Henrico families and older residents during the pandemic. She hopes to continue partnering with HCPS to “talk through what the new normal will be” and assess the future needs of HCPS students.

The global pandemic has given Monica fresh insight and opportunities to reflect on her current role. Moving forward, she hopes to focus on cross-functional collaboration between departments, creating new partnerships, and working with the County’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Raina Vann, to get critical services out to the community. “The way I think about my role has changed since COVID. We have folks throughout the County who need our services and support. Now is an opportunity for us to provide services in such a way that our citizens know our county is here as a resource for them…[to help them sustain and thrive].” Monica believes that Henrico is a great place to live, work and play because she’s lived in the County all her life. Her goal is to continue making Henrico a great place by providing “pockets of excellence” throughout the entire county to meet the needs of our ever-changing diverse community.

Read More

Education and Conservation: Animals of Henrico County

Henrico County is home to 40 parks and recreational facilities. They play an important role in community wellness and tourism. However, a lesser known feature of the parks is the role they play in animal conservation; specifically, at Three Lakes Park and Meadow Farm. The staff at these facilities includes two supervisors and four animal specialists that split their time between the two. They work all day, every day, even during closures, to make sure the animals are well tended; including regulating their environments, feeding, grooming, health checks, breeding and nursing care.

While the Three Lakes Park Nature Center is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 6,500 square foot facility features a variety of exhibits and is home to over 200 animals. The primary goal of the center is the educate visitors on the native wildlife they may see on the trails. There are exhibits showcasing local insects and birds. The 50,000-gallon aquarium gives an underwater view of the fish that can be found in the local lakes. The 29 display tanks showcase turtles and snakes from around Virginia-some of which are endangered or threatened species. Behind the scenes is a plethora of more reptiles and amphibians including venomous snakes, a variety of species of freshwater and brackish turtles, baby turtles and geriatric turtles that are too old to be used in displays. Many of these animals are trained to be held so that they can be used for hands-on teaching. While some of the animal’s personalities may earn them a nickname, none of the animals actually have names as they are all there for purely scientific and educational purposes.

In contrast, every animal at Meadow Farm has a name. It is a historical farm that began in the 1800’s and is still an active farm, now home to 43 animals- most of which are heritage animals. “Heritage is an umbrella term that embraces pure breeds of livestock and poultry with deep histories in the United States.” 1 On Meadow Farm there are two bronze turkeys, five guinea fowls, and five jungle fowls- all considered Heritage Breeds. The Farm is also home to some endangered species including: two Ossabaw Island pigs and twenty Gulf Coast Native sheep. Among the sheep are three new lambs that were born this Spring. They are hoping to add more Heritage Fowls and goats in the coming months.

Both sites participate in in-state breeding programs. They will breed some of their endangered animals and then trade or sell the offspring to other museums, parks, or nature centers, within Virginia, to help cultivate the species and educate the public. If you have not done so yet, I would encourage you to join the thousands of visitors that experience these two sites each year. Meadow Farm and Three Lakes Park are currently open to visitor and the Three Lakes Nature Center is hoping to open this month. Be on the lookout for special programing at both locations; especially Three Lakes’ Shark Week announcement!









Read More

From Mindful to Mindless: How to Engage in Healthy Habits That Last for Life

Exciting as it is, the idea of embarking on a new healthy way of living can be overwhelming. We know how much physical and emotional effort lasting change requires. If you have attempted change and stumbled in the past – and who has not – even just the act of aspiring to change and risking failure can feel exhausting.  After all, most people assume that to achieve their feel-great weight, they will have to practice herculean feats of willpower that make healthy eating and exercise so very challenging.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just flip a switch in our brain that would force us to eat the healthiest foods in the healthiest amounts and get the most effective workouts? That may not be possible, but creating habits is the next best thing.

Once you become aware of the emotional and environmental triggers between you and your goals and get some perspective on your own desires and temperaments, you can use that information to create habits that set you up for success. By setting up a series of carefully crafted habits, you can put your healthiest eating and most effective training practices on autopilot.

The term habit has an austere connotation; it implies servitude and obligation. It sounds downright unpleasant, but habits can liberate us from fretting about what to eat, when to exercise and how to reach and maintain our feel-great weight. Habits are freeing and energizing. They save us from the draining and difficult work of making decisions and exercising our self-control. What is more, each time you practice a healthy habit, it gets stronger and more automatic, so you do not have to muster up as much willpower to do it.

Here are some keys to effective habit creation that can help you make your own eating and exercising life more successful than before.

  • Respect yourself: You are who you are. You can be yourself. Change is possible, but personality transplants are unlikely. So, as you are setting up habits, do so with honest understanding of your own nature. If you are a night owl, do not vow to start daily 5 a.m. workouts. Focus on changing the situation to suit your desires and inclinations.
  • Show a little compassion: Do not say anything to yourself that you would not tell a good friend.
  • Convenience matters: It is important to make anything you do not want to do inconvenient, and anything you do want to do as easy as possible. If you do not want to indulge in cookies, do not buy them.
  • No man is an island: We are influenced by other people’s habits. If you want to form a habit, think carefully about what people around you are doing. If they are engaging in healthy living, that is helpful. If they are not, or they are actively sabotaging your goals, plan how you are going to contend with them.

Need motivation to begin your healthier habits? Participate in the July 21-Day Intermittent Movement Challenge to move more and decrease sedentary behavior with minimal interruption – a manageable way to get fit without designating an hour per day for exercise.

Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for additional information.

Read More