The city of Kansas City, Kan., has been selected by Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to take part in the new Invest Health initiative.

Invest Health is aimed at transforming how leaders from mid-size American cities work together to help low-income communities thrive, with specific attention to community features that drive health such as access to safe and affordable housing, places to play and exercise, and quality jobs.

Kansas City, Kan., was selected from more than 180 teams from 170 communities that applied to the initiative. Cities with populations between 50,000 and 400,000 were asked to form five-member teams including representatives from the public sector, community development, and an anchor institution, preferably academic or health-related.

Kansas City, Kan., team comprises representatives from education, community development, local government, and nonprofits and will lead to investments in our community that improve the physical and mental health of our residents.

The Kansas City, Kan., team includes: Brian McKiernan, 2nd District commissioner for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.; Stephen Samuels, executive director of Greater Kansas City LISC; Ryan Spaulding, associate professor and vice chancellor, community engagement at The University of Kansas Medical Center; David Smith, chief of staff for the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District; and Todd Jordan, director, community impact at the United Way of Wyandotte County.

“This is an exciting opportunity to bring together a cross-sector team capable of surfacing important issues in our community, working in partnership with residents to create solutions, and then aligning funding sources to make those solutions into a reality” Todd Jordan said.

Mid-size American cities face some of the nation’s deepest challenges with entrenched poverty, poor health and a lack of investment. But they also offer fertile ground for strategies that improve health and have the potential to boost local economies. The program has the potential to fundamentally transform the way Kansas City, Kan., improves opportunities to live healthy lives by addressing the drivers of health including jobs, housing, education, community safety and environmental conditions.

“With a long history in community development finance, we are excited to help create a pipeline to channel capital into low-income communities through public and private investments,” said Amanda High, chief of strategic initiatives at Reinvestment Fund. “Our goal is to transform how cities approach tough challenges, share lessons learned and spur creative collaboration.”

During the next 18 months, Invest Health teams will take part in a vibrant learning community, have access to highly skilled faculty advisers and coaches who will guide their efforts toward improved health, and receive a $60,000 grant. Kansas City, Kan., will also engage a broader group of local stakeholders to encourage local knowledge sharing. Learning from the program will be synthesized and disseminated through the project website.

“Public officials, community developers, and many others have been working in low-income neighborhoods for years, but they haven’t always worked together,” said Dr. Donald Schwarz, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation vice president, program. “Invest Health aims to align their work and help neighborhoods thrive by intentionally incorporating health into community development.”

Kansas City, Kan.,’s projects will explore a broad range of ideas from transportation to housing, a spokesman said. Examples include neighborhood redevelopment, food access, and workforce development. Project teams will travel to Philadelphia for a kick-off meeting on June 7 and will meet regularly to share lessons learned throughout the 18-month project.

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by Rynn Day, United Way Wyandotte County