Originally published in The Tennessean, June 2018
What makes a neighborhood a community? It’s like asking about the difference between a house and a home.
Neighborhoods and communities both have roads, businesses, schools and residents. But a community thrives based on relationships, the bonds of caring between the people who share in one another’s lives together.
What’s interesting is that the physical characteristics of a place – from streets to sidewalks and green spaces – can actually help create or strengthen those relational bonds.
Having a place that makes it easier to meet and connect with neighbors can improve people’s emotional health and overall wellbeing. And these spaces can add up to more than the sum of their parts by strengthening whole communities.
At BlueCross, we take a holistic view of health, and of our role of providing peace of mind to our members and communities. Giving back has always been a part of who we are, and we formalized it as part of our mission when we established the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation 15 years ago.
Since then, we’ve awarded more than $90 million to causes across Tennessee.
We’re proud of the partners and programs we’ve been able to support. And we know our support has changed lives and communities.
Eighteen months ago, BlueCross leaders stepped back to reevaluate our charitable giving, looking to see what we’ve accomplished and what opportunities might lie ahead. And they recognized that narrowing our focus could help us make an even bigger impact on the lives of our neighbors and neighborhoods.
So our team worked to find the right cause to rally behind – something where we could make a difference in both urban and rural communities and for people of all backgrounds. It was also important to continue engaging our employees, who give tens of thousands of hours to volunteer projects each year.
Starting this year, we’re channeling the majority of our foundation’s resources into a new strategic focus – the BlueCross Healthy Place program, where we’ll create active, healthy spaces across Tennessee that connect people and foster a sense of community.
Public spaces can bring these elements together – helping people feel connected to one another, improving both their physical and emotional health. And Tennessee is fortunate to have many great ones in cities and towns of all sizes.
Over the coming years, we’ll fund projects that create and improve public spaces across the state.
These spaces can take many forms, but each one will provide our neighbors with places for physical activity, and they’ll allow new connections to form, strengthening the bonds that form the backbone of our communities.
We recently broke ground on the first BlueCross Healthy Place, a $5.4 million revitalization of David Carnes Park in the Whitehaven neighborhood of Memphis. In under a year, the nine-acre park will be transformed to include a multipurpose field, playground, splash pad, obstacle course and walking tracks. And, of course, communal space to gather and share meals.
The David Carnes Park project, and the BlueCross Healthy Places that follow, will be collaborative efforts. In Memphis, we met with local leaders and residents to hear about their community’s needs, specifically asking what they wanted to see in their park to ensure it can improve the area and the lives of our neighbors who live there.
We look forward to hearing and supporting creative ideas across the state that can bring people together and build stronger communities.