Danielle Franklin Harmon is the Community Outreach Manager of the Big Sandy region of Appalachian Regional Healthcare. With about a decade of experience working with the community development and outreach, Danielle is committed to bettering her community. Most of the time, she says, that takes the form of health and wellness initiatives.
“We conduct a community health needs assessment and make a goal of what we want to do for the next three years. Then, I work for those next three years to make sure that we meet our goals for community health and wellness.” Eastern Kentucky, where Danielle’s programs are enacted, is largely an impoverished area with a huge need for preventative screenings and health education. “When it comes to health and wellness, many people in my area don’t take care of themselves the way that they should. My job is to create new programs in school systems, in civic organizations, and in the community, trying to bring people together for health and wellness education, and to create a better community.”
Danielle has piloted a number of programs about which she’s incredibly proud. For example, Teen Health Ambassadors. Danielle trained four high school students to go into the community and teach health and wellness to younger peers. “We’ve noticed that elementary school students tend to look up to high schoolers and listen to them more than they listen to an adult like me when I go in to try to teach a class.”
The Teen Health Ambassadors go into elementary schools and teach students about health and wellness, using visual aids like the “jar of tar,” which demonstrates how much tar the average 20-a-day smoker takes into their lungs yearly (about a cup.) They teach about preventative screenings, the dangers of smoking and drugs, and the benefits of getting enough sleep. Danielle created the Teen Health Ambassadors program with the UK Markey Cancer Center, and in the past year alone, they’ve educated over 250 students in the area.
Each ambassador has a tenure of two years, at the end of which, they’re granted a small college scholarship. The Teen Health Ambassadors program is just one example of the kinds of programs that Danielle creates in her role, and her commitment to bettering the region is evident in the work that she does daily. That’s why she jumped at the chance to be involved in BRIGHT Kentucky.
BRIGHT Kentucky, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission with support from the Whitaker Foundation and others, was designed for young leaders (ages 20-40, on average) in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, who are driven to better the community. Through the course of the program, participants travel around the state attending five three-day sessions. During each session, BRIGHT attendees go through extensive education, networking, and professional development training. Danielle says that her cohort was “taught about things like ethical leadership, managing different personality types, and building a positive image for eastern Kentucky.” The group also learned about Kentucky’s biggest challenges, and then brainstormed solutions. “I was in a room with really intelligent, exceptional young people,” Danielle says. “It was very intimidating, actually!”
Danielle said her group talked at length about bettering the region’s health and wellness, as well as the local economy and investing in young people. “We want to create new jobs in the area, and keep young people here. Hopefully, from this group of young leaders, we’ll have a whole host of new programs that change the future for our community.”
Danielle was one of 50 accepted into the program in 2019, out of roughly 100 applicants, and she is incredibly grateful for the opportunity. “What we were taught in the BRIGHT program, you’re not going to learn in college, and oftentimes, not even after college. We are thrown into the workplace and don’t get to learn things like ethical leadership, for example, unless you studied business in college.” Danielle says the same thing is true for a lot of the topics they studied. “We can feel very disconnected and siloed. Sometimes, there are important things happening in our region, right next to us, and we just don’t know about it.” Danielle was amazed to discover great programs and resources that she didn’t know existed. “The networking and connectivity elements of this program have been amazing,” she continued. “I learned about programs and approaches that have worked in other areas and could work here. I’ve been connected with people who can help me in my job, or people whom I can help. We all had different areas of expertise, so the networking was a huge plus.”
One of Danielle’s most important takeaways was her conviction that every BRIGHT Kentucky class should include an employee of Appalachian Regional Healthcare. “Part of ARH’s strategy is to invest in our employees and leaders, and I think continuing their education and professional development through BRIGHT is one of the best ways that we can do that.” As the largest healthcare provider and employer in eastern Kentucky, Danielle thinks it’s natural to have a representative from ARH in each class to champion health and wellness in the area.
As we enter a new year and decade, Danielle is delighted with what she gained through her participation at BRIGHT Kentucky and how she’s going to put that into practice in the future. “I’m really grateful to the program for all of the great content that was provided, and also to ARH for allowing me to participate in the program and learn how to make an even bigger positive impact on my community.”