Inclusive health not only means expanding access to mainstream public health services and resources, but expanding opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to engage — alongside peers without disabilities — in community life and improvement efforts. While people with intellectual disabilities often face barriers to participating in community life, research1 shows that fostering supportive opportunities for their inclusion comes with positive health benefits, including greater well-being and a greater sense of social belonging and connectedness. At the same time, successful community health improvement projects often depend on cross-sector buy-in and people’s participation.
About three years ago in Marysville, Ohio, a local greenhouse, a group of master gardeners and the local health department launched the Giving Garden, a volunteer-based effort to grow food for people in need. Just a few years later, with the help of local residents with intellectual disabilities, the partnership is on track to grow and donate more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce in a year. “It’s a wonderful testament to Union County to show how collaborative everyone is — that people really do want to come together and help each other,” said Doug Matthews, MS, Public Health Planner at the Union County Health Department and Project Coordinator for the Creating Healthy Communities initiative. While the health department doesn’t manage the details of planting and tending to the Giving Garden, it has been instrumental in facilitating the cross-sector partnerships and small funding support that keep the garden growing. In fact, the garden is doing so well that Matthews said organizers hope to expand food donations, start growing flowers to donate to local care facilities, and engage more community organizations that serve residents living with disabilities.
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