close   X

1/28/23 blog post

how Dayton Children's is engaging the community to improve children's health

all about the method behind Dayton Children's community programs

"There is no health equity, without authentic and purposeful community engagement.”  

- Jessica Salem, executive director, Dayton Children’s Center for Health Equity  

what is community engagement?

Dayton Children’s mission is the relentless pursuit of optimal health for every child within our reach. And because every child is different, that means we’re dedicated to finding equitable (not equal) ways to serve every child, family and community. Dayton Children’s Center for Health Equity has discovered that this mission, and health equity, are best achieved when the communities being served have an active role in making the decisions that will affect them.  

This is called community engagement. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community engagement means harnessing the skills and talents of a community’s most important resource: its people.  

“When we work collaboratively with our community, we are better able to address the root causes of their issues and try to improve the health and health outcomes for the people who live within the community,” explained Donna McCoy, community engagement coordinator with the Center for Health Equity.  

how people hold the power

So why is authentic community engagement and letting the people who live in the communities make the decisions that serve them?  Simply put, because people hold the power.  

Dayton Children’s has plenty of experts on children’s health and wellness, but the people who actively live, work and play in the communities served by the hospital are the experts on their own lives and experiences. So who better to get information from than the experts?  

Community members have a good idea of what programs will work for their lifestyle or have insight on what has not worked well in the past. They have the best understanding of what their neighbors will think or how their families will respond. And, at the end of the day, they know better than anyone how they themselves can best be helped! 

what community engagement looks like in action  

Currently, the Center for Health Equity team is working on a community engagement project in the Burkhardt-Springfield neighborhood. This neighborhood was chosen, not just because it's right across the Mad River from Dayton Children’s main hospital, but because this community was deemed by the Ohio Department of Health to be vulnerable and in need of more support to improve health outcomes in the area. So, the Ohio Department of Health awarded the Center for Health Equity team a  $100,000 grant to address the needs in the Ohio Health Improvement Zone’s (OHIZ) pilot project.  

The team determined to use community engagement to make the most impact in a few deliberate steps.

  1. First the team focused on building trust and partnership.  “It’s important to ensure that an authentic relationship is built between the people being served and the people creating the programs from the start. This creates a firm foundation that programs can be built on,” shares Donna. These relationships are built with the help of a community advisory team made up of community members. The advisory team identified the areas that they most want to address in their neighborhood including food insecurity, lack of positive spaces for kids, issues with neighborhood safety and more.    
  2. Secondly, the team is focusing on keeping the community members engaged as partners at every step of the process. This is done by asking for feedback consistently to make sure that people are being heard and their input is being valued. 

Asking for feedback looks like asking the community:  

  • What do you feel are the areas of need in your community?  
  • What kind of assets and programs are already available in your community that help you? 
  • How could large organizations and “anchor institutions” like Dayton Children’s better engage within your community?  

These questions create opportunities for reflection and open channels of communication for the team to find solutions.  

  1. Third, the information and research that’s provided by the community is brought back to administrators and leaders at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Once shared with leaders, it’s used to inform the hospital’s processes so that the hospital can better serve the communities and patient populations. For example, research has already been done to improve Dayton Children’s: 

  • Behavioral health programs  
  • Patient intake process  
  • Social needs screening for families who need resources, like food and transportation.  

These steps are just the beginning and the OHIZ pilot project will continue until the Fall of 2023. But community engagement coordinator Donna McCoy says they’ve already learned plenty of lessons that they will carry forward. 

“What we’ve learned so far from our community engagement efforts is that we have to meet the community where they are, be open and honest with our intentions and build authentic relationships. This will help us to bridge the gaps that we see so far,” she said.

Read more about the Ohio Health Improvement Zone pilot project here.  

Continuing the path of community engagement 

January 28 is recognized as Global Community Engagement Day, a time for governments, nonprofits, community organizations and the people involved with them to recognize that keeping communities happy and healthy starts with authentic community engagement. 

Across the world, community organizations are agreeing that community engagement is an incredibly effective way to make those in a community feel seen, heard and valued. Continuing the research and effort of community engagement will not only create programs that help, it will create programs that last.  

If you’re a practitioner, researcher or community member who is interested in using community engagement methods, click here to learn more.  

To learn more about Dayton Children’s Center for Health Equity click here.  

contact us be a voice for children

If you are interested in partnering with Dayton Children’s to improve the health status of children please contact Jessica Salem at

email us

Learn more about issues facing children’s hospitals and how you can help make a difference.  

learn more