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East Side Health and Well-Being CollaborativeMechanisms for Advancing Public HealthMechanisms for Advancing Health Equity

Showing Up and Sharing Space: Reflections on Five Years of Community Collaboration

May 15, 2024


Since 2019, the Network has participated in the East Side Health and Well-being Collaborative (“the Collaborative”), a dynamic and diverse coalition of two dozen organizations dedicated to advancing community health equity on St. Paul’s East Side in Minnesota. Serving as a core Partner on the Collaborative, the Network plays a pivotal role, co-founding and leading the Collaborative’s Policy Work Group; providing training on the intersection between health equity, public health, and law and policy; helping identify specific policies that support the Collaborative’s program goals; and participating in and contributing to collaborative activities.

We hope by sharing the Collaborative’s unique approach and our learnings as a Partner, we can inform how the public health law field can engage in similar efforts which can positively impact the people and populations we serve, the sectors we reside in, the communities in which we live, and the systems we seek to change.

Figure 1: The East Side of St. Paul is comprised of three neighborhoods, Payne-Phalen, Greater East Side and Dayton’s Bluff.

The East Side Health and Well-being Collaborative

The East Side of St. Paul is a diverse community of many different backgrounds, stories, and cultures. The East Side is home to large population of Indigenous, Black, and new Americans, including a high number of refugees and immigrants of Hmong, Karen, Latino and Somali descent. With such diversity comes strength for a growing community. Like other communities in St. Paul, the Twin Cities metro, and across Minnesota, opportunities for East Side residents to achieve prosperity and fulfillment overall can vary depending on access to nutritious foods, community connections, English language fluency, and zip code. These factors often do not impact everyone equally and result in racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic health inequities. To address these and other community-identified barriers, and to strengthen community capacity in the East Side of St. Paul, the East Side Health and Well-being Collaborative was created in 2015.

The Collaborative’s Approach

The East Side Health and Well-being Collaborative(“Collaborative”) unites diverse social and human services providers, with a collective commitment to enhancing the health and wellness of East Side Saint Paul residents.
Through deep listening and conscientious consideration of each Partner’s unique perspective, together we have cultivated a cohesive group dynamic, sustaining a collective vision for nearly a decade. Unity is forged through the shared exchange of insights, each contribution enhancing the fabric of our collaboration inside and outside Collaborative work. In this harmonious milieu, partnership work is sincere, complements and enriches the endeavors we undertaken, resulting in a synergy greater than the sum of its parts.

Partner organizations collectively address essential needs, foster collaborative problem-solving, and mutually support our quest for a healthier, more connected, and resilient community. Agencies involved include social services organizations, faith-based organizations, East Side cultural communities, businesses, community centers, public schools, higher education, neighborhood organizations, youth-focused organizations, elder-focused organizations, government agencies (county and city), medical and dental health providers, public health, and health care systems. Many of which have been involved in the Collaborative since its founding.

Substantively, the strength of the Collaborative is built on knowledge and experience of the East Side community and guided on the following principles: taking a neighborhood-based approach; actualizing equity in health and well-being; designing for complexity; putting relationships first; co-creating; respecting autonomy; and designing for sustainability. Instilled throughout the Collaborative is the shared belief that what is done is done “with and for community” rather than “to community” while recognizing the many strengths and assets already inherent in the communities that Partners serve. Community is in the lead and forefront of all Collaborative work.

Collaborative projects have resulted in meaningful and actionable impact, include but not limited to:

  • The Policy Forum is a participatory, collaborative workgroup and space for mutual learning and unlearning and the sharing of ideas, experiences, and best practices. The Policy Forum aims to develop and strengthen participating members and Collaborative overall capacity to engage with policy to better advocate for the communities they serve.
  • The Cultural Broker program: The Cultural Brokers are employees of Collaborative partner M Health Fairview and help bridge cultural gaps by translating and supporting people as they navigate schools, healthcare, and other mainstream systems to ultimately build self-sufficiency. The program comprises seven Cultural Brokers located at five respective partner organizations representing different cultural communities: African American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino, Hmong, and Karen.
  • Health Commons East: A free drop-in health and wellness center promoting services based on respect, relationship building, hospitality, and collaboration connecting health and hope for the community to live healthier lives. Services include drop-in hours where a nurse is available for a one-on-one consultation, foot care, aromatherapy, and classes, food distributions and supply giveaways.
  • The East Side Table: Through the fresh food box distribution program, community events, tastings, cooking demos, and a multi-language website with resources, East Side Table partner organizations hope to lower the barriers to eating healthier at home, time, motivation, and expense. Previous initiatives of East Side Table include a make-at-home-meal kit concept and pilot and Make-at-Home Meal Kits program. These efforts provided people and families who qualify on the East Side of St. Paul with culturally appropriate seasonal meals and home cooking resources at no cost and later informed the development of the Community Cooks Meal Box Program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Partnership and Learnings

This year marks the five-year anniversary of the Network engaging with the Collaborative, working directly with communities residing on the East Side, and through the Policy Forum. The Network co-founded the Policy Forum with our Partners to listen to and prioritize the voices of leaders on the frontline of social change in St. Paul, understanding that an essential part of our equity work is deepening our relationships with and accountability to our own local communities. We also recognized that we could use our resources to amplify and elevate community voices and build capacity within ourselves to be better advocates for transformative change.

The partnership between the Network and the Collaborative reflects how we can expand our reach when we work with, listen to, and support cross-sector endeavors. By working in partnership, we have produced a diverse and rich array of activities providing mutual benefit and support. We support the values of the Collaborative through meaningful, inclusive engagement, willingness to learn and grow, and building trusting relationships. We “shows up” and engages with the Collaborative as its own community, and shares knowledge, power, and space.

Our Partners are our equals, and we are in community with and for them in this work. Collaborative has specifically cultivated a space that is defined by trust, authenticity, and relationship building. These and other factors helped the Collaborative to not only navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, but to thrive despite it and move forward together. Cross-disciplinary projects and co-leadership like the Policy Forum also shows how we have put into practice the ideal of building our knowledge and skills together, not alone. The results include co-determination of the law and policy support needed by Collaborative partners, and co-creation of resources.

The Network and Collaborative partners co-created training that examined how consideration of different cultural beliefs, norms and perceptions can ensure that public health messaging is comprehensive and relevant to different audiences. This training, Rooted in Faith and Community: Messaging for Leaders to Advance Health Equity featured speakers from the Network, the Collaborative, M Health Fairview and the Fairview Interfaith Health Collaborative.
Network staff and Collaborative partners co-authored a three-part series of law and policy insight articles.

The law and policy insights project proved especially valuable for creating more relationships and engagement between with Network staff and the Collaborative partners, and can also serve as a practical, cross-sector model for organizations to work with and for community; celebrate communities’ unique cultural traditions and wisdom and highlight the use of law and policy tools to support community and community-led efforts in order to improve population health and well-being.

Looking Forward

“The world is less lonely knowing the Network is as curious as some of us in the field. “
– Collaborative Partner

Being curious, consistent, responsive, authentic, and a good listener are all qualities embraced by Collaborative. Partnering with and for others, especially with organizations directly working with people of color and in communities in color, means that we share, or even forego, the power to decide on goals, priorities, and methods. Growing and sharing power is a necessary building block to truly address the root causes of health. It means showing up, sharing space, and shedding egos.

Our Partners are what makes the Collaborative very special. We want to thank the East Side community, our Collaborative partners, and M Health Fairview for sharing with us and being a welcoming partner. We look forward to continuing our partnership in the years to come.

To learn more about the East Side Health and Well-being Collaborative, please connect with Sara Rogers at, April Shaw at, or Christina McCoy,

This article was written by Sara Rogers, Public Health Policy Analyst, Health Equity, Network for Public Health Law. The Network provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, RWJF.