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Sitka Earns 2019 RWJF Culture of Health Prize

Nov 13, 2019 | Monitor

Tina Bachmeier (left) and Eleyna Rose hike on Sitka’s Cross Trail. When construction began in the late 1990s, the project employed loggers displaced after the area’s pulp mill closed. Today, this walking, biking, and hiking pathway skirts the mountains—linking to other trails, neighborhoods, and downtown Sitka. “We’ve got trails in this town for every type of individual and health need,” says Lynne Brandon, executive director of Sitka Trail Works. The nonprofit has worked with the city, state, National Park Service, Coast Guard, and Sitka Tribe of Alaska to build a robust network of trails on the island.


PRINCETON, NJ—The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), one of the country’s largest charitable organizations focused on health, announced the five communities—which includes Sitka—chosen to receive the 2019 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Sitka is the first Alaska community ever to win the award, which honors and elevates communities at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity, and equity for all. The other 2019 prize winners are: Broward County, Florida; Gonzales, California; Greenville County, South Carolina; and Lake County, Colorado.  

“The 2019 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners recognize that health is about more than just healthcare. It’s about what happens where we live, work, learn, and play. They are fundamentally reshaping their communities so that everyone has a fair opportunity for health and well-being,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “These communities show the nation that solutions are within our grasp when we use local data to identify challenges and work together to implement solutions brought forward by residents.”

Each winner will receive a $25,000 prize, join a growing network of Prize-winning communities, and have their accomplishments shared broadly to inspire other communities across the nation who are building a Culture of Health. 

Prize communities share a commitment to investing in a broad range of solutions and coordinated steps to usher in lasting change.

Here is what RWJF observed in the Sitka community to merit the award:

Connected by just fourteen miles of road, residents in Sitka, Alaska play an active role in building a healthier and more inclusive future together. From the monthly Wooch.een Networking Gatherings to the annual Sitka Health Summit Planning Day, many opportunities exist for people to be heard. The traditions and leadership of the Tlingit, the people indigenous to Sitka, are infused throughout the community, including through culturally responsive education in schools and holiday reclamation. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s and State of Alaska’s family reunification efforts is a partnership moving the community forward. The town is investing in the next generation of leaders by fostering entrepreneurship and establishing a youth-led teen center. Sitka runs on renewable, hydro-electric energy from its alpine dam and deeply values the environment that sustains the community.

RWJF honored this year’s winners at the RWJF Culture of Health Prize Celebration and Learning Event at its Princeton, New Jersey headquarters. Each Prize-winning community sent a delegation of six representatives to the event. While in Princeton, the delegations connected with past Prize winners, national partners, and RWJF staff.

Learn more about the 2019 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners at www.rwjf.org/prize

RWJF’s summary of the Sitka community’s approach to wellness, opportunity, and inclusion.

RWJF YouTube channel

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