New Immigrants Bring Opportunities to Small Towns

New Immigrants Bring Opportunities to Small Towns

According to the Center for Rural Affairs:

“Immigration is reshaping the landscape of rural America. A rapidly growing Hispanic population is driving the trend. New immigrants are offsetting population loss, a challenge faced by many small communities.  In our home state of Nebraska, the Hispanic population will triple by 2050, accounting for 25% of the state population. More than 40% of this growth is happening in rural communities. The majority population in several Nebraska small towns has shifted to Hispanic.”

Two areas to focus on include:

  1. Building inclusive and welcoming communities
  2. Small business development

Study Seeks to Improve Lives for Migrant Farmworkers in Nebraska

Aida Olivas, with the Nebraska Migrant Education Program, introduces the study team to a group of migrant workers.

Aida Olivas, with the Nebraska Migrant Education Program, introduces the study team to a group of migrant workers.

Here’s the link to the recent article published about the Migrant Farmworker Health Study in Nebraska:

This study was conducted over the summer of 2013 by my team and I throughout five central Nebraska counties.  We surveyed 200 Latino migrant farmworkers about their health status, stress, substance use, and depression.  This pilot study was funded by the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety & Health (CS-CASH).

We are now in the dissemination phase where we want to share the findings with other stakeholders and brainstorm together about how we can improve lives for migrant farmworkers in our state.

Symposium on Small Towns 2014: Co-Creating Our Future

MN farmThis week I have the opportunity to participate in the the Symposium on Small Towns in Morris, Minnesota.  It was about a five hour drive up here, and I spent most of my time looking at the farms and the land.  I caught myself thinking about rural life and the significance of place in our lives.

During today’s sessions there was a strong focus on rewriting the rural narrative.  There is so much negative press out there about rural communities and that they are losing population, closing schools and hospitals, and that main streets dying; however, people’s experience limits what they can see.  Rural communities are changing, not dying.  Obviously, there is an impact of globalization and economies of scale, but most are not unincorporating and closing shop.  Thanks to Ben Winchester from the Center for Community Vitality and Randy Cantrell from University of Nebraska Extension, I learned that these are stereotypes and myths that exist.  Facts are that rural population in shear numbers has increased although the percentage of people living in rural areas has decreased from 26% to 19%.  In essence, we need to change our own narratives from a deficit-based approach to an asset-based approach…instead of the focus on the “brain drain” we should focus on the “brain gain” whereby there is an in-migration of 30-49 year olds into rural areas because of quality of life factors.  Additionally, there is in-migration to small towns from immigrants.  So newcomers are making there way into small towns.

A “newcomer” is defined as someone who has lived in a community less than five years.  Here’s some interesting facts about “newcomers” in Nebraska:

  • 40% have bachelor’s degrees
  • 48% have household incomes of over $50K
  • 43% of children
  • They are generally leaving their career and are underemployed in the new community, yet quality of life is more important.
  • 60% say that they will be living there five years from now and the more communities are friendly and trusting the more people want to stay.
  • Newcomers want to live in a place that has vision and where they can see an opportunity to participate and co-create that future.

Leadership and capacity-building is an important issue to highlight.  We need a strategy in order to grow what we need.  Little did I realize, but in Nebraska, there are 27.7 people for every elected or non-profit leadership position.  That means that there is a great opportunity to serve and build this vision for a stronger state, whereas in other places there are fewer of these types of opportunities.  In fact, in urban areas there are 144 people for every position.  How do you harness that opportunity?  We need to rethink our engagement strategy and find ways to bring non-traditional partners to the table.  Instead of doing things “to” or “for” people, we need to do things “with” people and engage them in re-imagining what could be.

Moving forward we need to hear an authentic voice about community assets and build relationships to strengthen the niche, promote the assets, build social capital, and connect the community.  This is a promising way to develop lasting community change that both honors the history, tradition, and people of the area and also allows for new voices, ideas, and visions to be heard.

SOURCE: Small Towns Symposium, 2014: Ben Wichester & Randy Cantrell, Rewriting the Rural Narrative; Craig Schroeder, Discussing the Youth Voice.

Promising Practices Conference 2014

I’m in Washington DC this week for the the Promising Practices Conference, which is a conference all about healthy living and tobacco-free lifestyles.  Check out my posts from the Break Free Alliance blog!

DAY 1:

Blog #1: Moving From Promise to Practice 

Blog #2: New Frontiers in Tobacco Control: Lessons from a Frontier State


Development of Innovative Strategies to Reach the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community in Tobacco Control

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.








DAY 2: Coming Soon!

Experience in Self-Reflection

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar on place, culture, home, and identity in New Mexico. I was one of about 15 people who joined the conversation.

We learned much about ourselves and how culture and identity are impacted by place. I struggled with how to explain what I learned and how I feel, but below I will highlight some of the key reflections I’m taking home:

1. Life is in all forms. Your ability to eliminate the distance between you and anything else brings greater harmony and allows relationships to flourish.
2. Identity and life transitions are deeply affected by place and space.
3. Sharing a story is so often not valued but it is immensely important to understanding any other person. Not only are you sharing in the words for that instant, but in fact you are sharing in their experience.
4. We should strive for more intentional conversations. Instead of shying away from difficult and important topics, we should embrace the opportunity and learn to see the world through another’s eyes.
5. We share a common humanity and are all connected through a lifeblood provided by the universe.
6. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is permanent. And nothing is ever finished.
7. “Being face to face, you cannot see the face. You must step back to see.” (Russian proverb)
8. We find our own meaning in everything we see, feel, hear, say, and experience. We are the authors of our lives, and meanings and interpretations can change as we change or reflect.
9. We are all only a path of greater understanding. It’s a journey, not a destination. It might be slow and tough, but there’s no parking along the way.


The many deep, intentional conversations, the beauty of nature, and open mindfulness shaped this experience of a wonderful, peaceful place. I can’t wait for next time!

Tobacco Control Prevention and Outreach Program is Working in Nebraska

Throughout the last twelve years, we have been working hard in Nebraska to reduce tobacco use, exposure to secondhand smoke, and tobacco-related disparities as well as to promote health throughout communities. In Omaha, a number of groups, organizations, and individuals are working together through MOTAC, the Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition.

We have had a number of successes including:

  • Tobacco product placement law to put all tobacco products behind the counter
  • Smoke-free air law for Nebraska
  • Increased smoke-free housing options including working towards smoke-free apartments
  • Tobacco-free campus policies for all major hospital systems – Alegent, Creighton, Methodist, and UNMC
  • Tobacco-free grounds organizational policies
  • Outreach to communities that experience a disproportionate burden of tobacco including Latinos, LGBT individuals, and African-Americans

UNMC Center for Reducing Health Disparities, Tobacco Outreach Team:
Ariss Rogel Mendoza, Antonia Correa, and Athena Ramos

Today, we got to meet up with Dr. Scout, the Director of the LGBT Network for Health Equity. We had a great conversation about some of the things that are working with our program. Dr. Scout will be spending the next few days with us teaching us about best practices in tobacco control, outreach to priority populations, and much more.

Here’s a link to Dr. Scout’s recent blog about what’s going on here locally:

Lots of work is being done in communities across the state to make our state more healthy and safe for everyone!

Prevention & Public Health Fund Needed to Accomplish the Essential Public Health Services

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 created the Prevention and Public Health Fund to invest in public health and disease prevention.This Fund is a key component of the law’s overall power to help reorient U.S. healthcare system toward prevention and wellness, while also restraining the costs of high prevalence of chronic diseases in our communities.

According to CDC, the Essential Public Health Services provide the fundamental framework of the public health activities that should be undertaken in all communities.  The Essential Services provide a working definition of public health and a guiding framework for the responsibilities of local public health systems.

  1. Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems.
  2. Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community.
  3. Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues.
  4. Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems.
  5. Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts.
  6. Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety.
  7. Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable.
  8. Assure competent public and personal health care workforce.
  9. Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services.
  10. Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems.

How can Congress refuse the 5-to-1 return on investment prevention affords? If Congress abandons the Prevention Fund, it is forcing local businesses to continue to spend $153 billion each year on chronic diseases that are preventable – monies local businesses could instead be spending to hire more workers, reinvest in the business, and support a vibrant, healthy workforce. Congress needs to be fiscally responsible and support the Prevention Fund so businesses can spend their resources on what matters to them.

Preventing disease and injury in the first place is the smart way to ensure good health. When we use our collective resources to create environments for children and families – neighborhoods, schools, childcare centers, and workplaces – that support health, wellbeing, and safety, that’s when we are at our best in school, at work, and with each other. It simply doesn’t make sense – and is a waste of precious resources – to pay when someone is sick when we could pay much less to be sure they don’t get sick in the first place.

Practicing Haiku for an Exercise Next Week


a major form of Japanese verse, written in 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, and employing highly evocative allusions and comparisons, often on the subject of nature or one of the seasons.

Blessed are we to dream

For a better tomorrow;

Action, trust, and US!


Good morning sunshine

Beautiful world around me

May love fill us all

Agricultural Medicine Course Opened My Eyes

Wow! I just spent the last week or so emerged in learning about agricultural and medicine through an agricultural medicine course at UNMC.  This course opened my eyes to some of the dangers related with this industry.  Agricultural medicine is an interdisciplinary study in occupational and environmental health within the agricultural community.  Agriculture is the most dangerous industry/occupation in the world.

I guess, like many other people, I never realized or never really thought about the occupational and environmental hazards of production agriculture before I learned about this class.  Now, I have a much better understanding and appreciation for what really goes into producing the food that we share on our table everyday.  I want to share some of the basics here:

  • There are many health issues related with production agriculture including hearing loss, chemical exposures, animal exposures, skin diseases, vibration injuries, respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal issues, exposure to extreme weather, and of course, injuries occurring from equipment especially tractors.  Many agricultural injuries, diseases, and fatalities could be prevented.  There is a need for a comprehensive approach to farm safety.
  • There are about 540 deaths per/year in the United States equating to a fatality rate of about 30 deaths/100,000 workers.  This is higher than any other industry including construction and manufacturing.
  • There are groups that are at a higher risk for injury on the farm including children, older adults, farm workers, and anabaptist groups.  Some of the reasons for this include the lack of childcare facilities near agricultural centers, unsafe play areas, use of older farm equipment, lack of adequate personal protective equipment, potential limited English proficiency, and adherence to traditional ways of working the land.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all farming is regulated.  In fact, family farms are not subject to OSHA regulations. Only farms that have 11 or more hired workers/employees are subject to OSHA regulations.
  • The 3 E’s of safety are Engineering, Enforcement, and Education; however, the most effective way to prevent some of these injuries and exposures is to engineer them out of the farm and the equipment.

Here are some links if you want to learn more: