Johnson City Press: Speedway Children’s Charities, Ballad Health, Niswonger form new initiative to support local kids
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Speedway Children’s Charities, Ballad Health, Niswonger form new initiative to support local kids

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 24, 2019 at 7:47 PM

BRISTOL — There is strength in numbers as several of the area’s top entities have come together for the common good of the local community.

The Bristol chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, Niswonger Children’s Hospital and Ballad Health have formed STRONG Kids, a new initiative to assist regional organizations that support children.

STRONG Kids stands for Striving Toward Resiliency and Opportunity for the Next Generation. The initiative, introduced at a BMS press conference Wednesday, will enable these groups to share ideas and best practices to help children in the area.

“Each one of us have a passion to improve the quality of life for children in our region,” SCC Bristol chapter executive director Claudia Byrd said. “We’re lucky we get to raise money and give a check away at the end of the year. That’s great, but the actions through this partnership, we’re going to give them so much more.

“We’re able to give them tools to do their jobs and improve the quality of life for the children throughout the year. We’re excited about this because we think this partnership will make a difference immediately. We’ve always been about improving the quality of life of children, but it’s doing it in a different way.”

Founded in 1996, the Bristol chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities has distributed nearly $14 million since its inception to organizations in 18 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights and the Ice Rink presented by HVAC are the flagship fundraisers. Other major fundraisers include the Red Bucket Brigade donations, 50/50 raffles, live auctions, celebrity shooting and golf tournaments.

“Why not take the best of what everybody does and bring it together? Instead of they’re doing something and we’re doing something, we don’t need to be repetitive,” Byrd said. “Let’s put our resources and talents together. The whole thing is about serving these non-profit children’s organizations on our part. I think it’s going to be so beneficial to every child in some form.”

STRONG Kids was introduced at a forum featuring Dr. Karen Schetzina of ETSU Physicians, who spoke about childhood trauma and resiliency, and adverse childhood experiences. Future forums will include substance abuse, exercise and nutrition.

One of the main recipients of Speedway Children’s Charities fundraising efforts is Niswonger Children’s Hospital. As the only children’s hospital in the area, it serves more than 200,000 children from 29 counties in the Mountain Empire region, including Northeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina, Southwest Virginia and Southeast Kentucky.

The hospital is involved in numerous programs to improve the health of children, ranging from newborn sleep safety to elementary-age literacy. While the different charitable organizations were doing good work on their own, it was important to get everyone pulling in the same direction, according to Niswonger Children’s Hospital CEO Lisa Carter.

“How can we create the biggest impact where we’re not all working separately on the same initiatives? It’s looking at what programs need to be developed and how we can capitalize on existing programs,” Carter said. “Speedway Children’s Charities provide financial support for a lot of these organizations. If there are financial means that need to be distributed, how do we collectively do that? It’s looking at a strategy for the region to have the greatest impact for kids.”

STRONG Kids is a complement to the region’s recently announced Accountable Care Community, which is a collaboration of more than 200 organizations in the region with a common goal of providing local children the best chance to succeed in life by focusing on their health, education and economic opportunity.

Healthy Kingsport, Ballad Health and the United Way of Southwest Virginia are lead organizations for the Accountable Care Community effort.

Paula Masters serves as vice president for Ballad Health’s office of population health, which focuses on improving the whole region’s health, including preventative measures. There is also a focus to expand access to pediatrics, behavioral and rural health services and to support local health research and medical education.

“Through the department of population health, we are thinking about not only the people we’re serving at our facilities, but throughout the entire region,” she said. “Our journey is going away from being just a health care delivery system to being a community health improvement organization.

“We have to think about how are we best serving the children and their families. That’s where this partnership comes in. We want to collectively work in a different way to do that. So many organizations around the area are doing fantastic things. The STRONG Kids is about bringing multi-sector partnerships and how we can all work together to have a greater impact.”

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