Greater Portland is My United Way
It takes a village. In 2007, seven organizations in the Greater Portland area came together in response to a growing body of research centered on childhood obesity, nowhere more evident than in Maine, where almost 40% of kindergartners were overweight. United Way of Greater Portland convened the community forum, which included Unum, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine, Maine Medical Center, MaineHealth, Hannaford Bros., TD Bank, and United Way of Greater Portland. Deb Deatrick, Senior Vice President of Community Health at MaineHealth, was at the table when Let’s Go! was born.
“Back in 2007, Let’s Go! was only the germ of an idea. We knew that childhood obesity was becoming a bigger problem. Little kids – two years old, five years old – were overweight or obese by the time they got to school.
We knew we had to take action. We brought together a bunch of people from across the community: business people, people who work in healthcare and community organizations, school superintendents, parents, and teachers.
The amazing thing that we learned in coming together was that this couldn’t be about singling out kids who were overweight or obese. It had to be about everyone — creating healthy kids, healthy communities and healthy families. That was a defining moment and I think the single factor that led to the program’s success.”
The campaign that followed would revolutionize the way Mainers think about healthy eating and an active lifestyle.
“We wanted something that was very action oriented and we came up with “Let’s Go!” And much of what we did in the early years was to feature stuff that was going on in every community in the Portland area – whether it was sledding in the winter time or farmers markets in the summer — really showing what people could do every day, without much money or help, that could actually have an impact on this big issue.
Even if you’ve never heard of Let’s Go! before, you’ve probably seen the 5-2-1-0 message on busses, on TV and radio. It’s really simple:
- 5 or more fruits and vegetables
- 2 hours or less recreational screen time
- 1 hour or more of physical activity
- 0 sugary drinks, more water & low fat milk
. . . . I think I could say that in my sleep!
Let’s Go! really has made a difference. The research that we’ve done over the course of the past 7 or 8 years has absolutely documented behavior change and, most importantly, changes in environment and policy that are really going to sustain these efforts over time.”
Deb’s connection to United Way is long standing, and personal as well as professional.
“I have been involved with United Way for a number of years. In the early 80s when I was State Director of Dental Health, United Way did an amazing ground-breaking study on oral health that I used more or less as the blueprint for my office in the Maine Department of Human Services. That study really laid a foundation for what needed to happen for improving oral health in the State of Maine.
I also chaired the board of the Peaks Island Workshop (a recipient of United Way funds) when I lived on Peaks Island. My son attended the Workshop. Peaks Island Workshop is a really important resource for people who live in a rural community and need that support to be able to get to work to make a decent living to support their families.
I have been giving to United Way for a very long time. I believe in United Way. I believe in the good work it does in the community.”
In her work at MaineHealth, Deb drives many of the initiatives that support MaineHealth’s mission “to make our communities the healthiest in America.” Her belief in the collective power of the local community to address and solve its problems was honed in her work with Let’s Go!
“Let’s Go was never about some big foundation coming to Maine or coming to United Way and giving a big grant or saying here’s what we want you to do, here’s the template that you need to follow. We really thought it up ourselves.
Amazingly, it has gone on to be a program that is now in every county in Maine, in many states in the US, and even in several other countries.
It all started here in Greater Portland with United Way. United Way was the place in the community where all of these leaders knew each other, met, regularly exchanged ideas — and came to the realization that we needed to take action.
Talk about an incubator! It was an amazing, amazing investment.”
Deb credits the phenomenal success of programs like Let’s Go! in large part to United Way’s longstanding connections in the community and its ability to convene stakeholders around the big issues.
“United Way has the unique ability to survey the community periodically, put the periscope up, take a look at what’s going on in the community from a twenty-thousand foot level to identify those big needs that are emerging across the community that no one organization can handle or address on its own.
And that was really the story of Let’s Go!. United Way saw what needed to be done, they brought together the partners, they turned up the heat, provided data and a nurturing place for people to meet, and the opportunity for dialogue and problem solving — and what came out the other end is nothing short of a miracle.”