One of the poorest areas of the county — the southeast end of Canton — desperately requires the type of attention that a new planning grant will give it.

Canton is one of 50 cities nationwide that will receive the Invest Health grant. It will have 18 months to research and plan how best to address health issues in the low-income neighborhood. The $60,000 grant from the Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will bring together a team of community stakeholders. The onus will be on these officials to find practical solutions to some of the neighborhood’s problems. And those problems are many.

The team, which includes the city of Canton, the Canton City School District, Mercy Medical Center, the Stark Community Foundation and the Stark County Community Action Agency, already has some good ideas, including creating a kindergarten readiness program that addresses obesity, medical health, dental care and immunization; creating educational and training opportunities to support employment for adults; working on the city’s fair housing policy; and expanding access to fresh food through a community garden or new grocery store.

The goal of the team must be to develop a strong plan that can be used to leverage additional grant dollars and community resources to solve the problems facing the southeast side. Long term, if the recommendations prove to be successful solutions, they can be a template for other low-income areas of our community.

The connection between poverty and poor health is better understood today than it was decades ago. Studies have shown significant connections between the two: Children who don’t receive proper nutrition at home are likely to fall behind in school; substandard housing can put tenants at risk for a slew of diseases. And childhood lead exposure, often from lead-based paints used in old homes, has been linked to violent crime in adults, for example.

In her 2012 book “Open Forum: Voices and Opinions from Leaders in Policy, the Field, and Academia,” Risa J. Lavizzo-Mourey, the president and CEO of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, noted the following:

“To effectively reduce poverty and poor health we now know that we must address both, as well as the contributing factors they share,” she wrote. “We have learned that factors that are integral to poverty, such as insufficient education, inadequate housing, racism, and food insecurity, are also indicators of poor health. We know that a child’s life expectancy is predicted more by his ZIP code than his genetic code.”

The importance of this grant and the team’s work to Canton cannot be understated. We look forward to seeing their work take shape and, we hope, having a transformative effect on a neighborhood that needs it most.

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