Healthiest Cities and Counties Community Spotlight Series: Monongalia County

Tags: Health

The Greater Morgantown area is concentrating on food insecurity, mental illness, violence and pedestrian injuries and improving local programs that address these problems.

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Mountain Safe: WVU-Greater Morgantown Safe Community

What are some of the greatest health challenges that the members in your community face?

Alcohol-related Harm (DUI), Motor Vehicle Fatalities related to alcohol, alcohol-morbidity, sexual/physical assaults; overdose deaths, obesity, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease.

What are some of the health initiatives, specifically related to the Challenge's work, that are taking place in your community?

Mountain Safe is working with law enforcement, WVU Nursing and psycho-social services (WVU and Health Right) to create a Sobering Center. Multi-therapeutic strategies have been deployed to support substance disorder clients of Health Right through music therapy (community choirs, rock bands, lessons), art therapy (teaching art-painting and photography) and exercise therapy (gardening). Most recently, a photographic art exhibit featuring work from Health Right clients that are recovering from substance abuse disorder and were taught photographic techniques by an LA-based photographer were featured in a successful public event called "Unseen Morgantown."

Can you share either a personal story or an observation that might help illustrate the impact this initiative and/or the Challenge has had on you/your community?

It has been rewarding to see the change in the feelings of hope in the Health Right homeless and recovering substance disorder clients through a PhotoVoice project created by collaborative efforts of the WVU Injury Control Research Center, Health Right and a professional photographer. The improvement of the client’s feelings of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence through this most recent project brings such feelings of happiness to the staff of the Friendship House-Health Right, researchers and artists. Most clients have had self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, feelings that no one cared for them, etc. The hope and joy that was generated through this form of expression to the forgotten members of our community is priceless. The following are a few of the media outlets that covered the event:

Have you experienced any major successes or challenges so far with this initiative? If so, can you elaborate?

The overarching obstacle has been breaking down community silos. A number of groups that would strengthen efforts to make our community safer and healthier, feel threatened when approached to collaborate on projects. We continue the work, but at times it's been a slow process to eliminate those fears and reassure them that together we're working on common goals and we will be more effective combining our strengths.

Can you describe the progress of your project? What has been accomplished?

We have reached over 1000 people in North Central WV through the harm reduction/syringe access program. We are currently in Mon, Preston, Upshur and Lewis County with mobile exchange and we mentored the Marion County Health Department until they were able to run their own program (five months of mentorship and our supplies). We completed a PhotoVoice project where people who use drugs participated in a nine-week program to learn how to take photos with their cell phones. We asked them to photograph what was important to them and then held a show at a local museum. Over 100 community members came out on the opening night to see the photos, meet the photographers and purchase photos. The photos were amazing and genuine. The show and photographers are now headed to Baltimore at the end of June to a harm reduction conference to help people reduce stigma about people who use drugs and drug addiction in general. We moved the Friendship House to a larger location and are averaging over 80 people attending per day. The garden plot at Conscious Harvest has doubled in size and we have planted everything from lettuce to tomatoes. The Voice of Hope choir continues to meet every Wednesday morning and has had two "gigs" recently. They sang for the City Council when they made a visit to see the new Friendship House and they sang at a local Church. We also started a pediatric clinic for children without insurance (immigrant children not eligible for Medicaid). This project began in May 2018 and runs ever 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month with a completely volunteer staff of pediatricians. 

What does it mean to be part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge?

To be a part of the HCCC gives us a focus and purpose. It reminds us on a daily basis what our goals are as a community and the importance to understand that EVERYONE in our community has the RIGHT to a safe and healthy life.

Adapted from the original post on the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Learning Network. For more information on this and other Healthiest Cities and County Challenge Projects, visit the Challenge website at

Counties across the nation have accepted the challenge to make measurable changes in their community  as Finalists in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. This County Spotlight Series highlights county Challenge teams’ progress and achievements.

Click here to view the full series.

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