LSU AgCenter, state Sen. Mizell partner to FOCUS on healthy communities

(08/31/20) FRANKLINTON, La. — In January, nearly 60 residents met in Franklinton, Louisiana, a town of about 3,700 residents, to discuss the challenges and barriers to health in the community.

The forum was co-hosted by Louisiana state Sen. Beth Mizell and the LSU AgCenter SNAP-Ed program. As a result of the forum, Mizell and the AgCenter have worked with community partners and residents to launch the FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition. FOCUS stands for Franklinton Organized Community Unified Supports.

“A main theme from the community forum was that residents stated if we could focus to come together, offer support to one another and be unified as one, we could accomplish so much. The name of the coalition is a reflection of the community’s needs,” said Valerie Vincent, AgCenter family and consumer sciences regional coordinator. “Working together with our community partners and residents is key to any coalition’s success, and we look forward to continuing to work with residents in Franklinton to offer healthier options in our community.”

FOCUS is a Healthy Communities coalition that seeks to engage community partners and residents of Franklinton in areas that encourage residents to adopt policy, systems and environmental changes that lead to a healthier community, Vincent said.

“If we come together as a community, we have an opportunity to improve the health of all of our residents, from infants to the elderly,” Mizell added. “FOCUS Franklinton Healthy Community Coalition gives all of us a chance to bring a better quality of life with healthier outcomes to all of our residents.We care about the health of all. Let’s put action to those words. When we make it better for everybody, we all benefit.”

According to County Health Rankings, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, Washington Parish ranks 60th out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes for health outcomes, while neighboring St. Tammany Parish ranks second best in the state. The FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition is working to make positive changes to help residents become healthier and ultimately improve the parish’s health rankings.

It’s all hands on deck at the AgCenter as staff work together with residents to embrace the healthy communities model. 4-H youth development agent Beth Blackwell Putnam, agriculture and natural resources agent Mary Helen Ferguson, and family and consumer sciences staff members Vincent and Christi Mitchell all work together on the initiative.

“The FOCUS Healthy Community Coalition offers a way for nutrition, 4-H youth development and agriculture and natural resources to work together to showcase the wonderful programs we have to offer,” said Putnam, AgCenter Washington Parish chair. “Through the coalition, we hope to provide mentor opportunities for youth in civic and community engagement while simultaneously enhancing the health of residents.”

“The SNAP-Ed nutrition education program opportunities have been well received in Washington Parish,” said Mitchell, an AgCenter nutrition educator. “Through the coalition, we hope to expand those offerings.”

The coalition has been meeting online due to COVID-19 but has still been able to kick off its first project. At the July kick-off meeting, community partners began work on the Focus on Hydration project.

Focus on Hydration seeks the donation of refillable water bottles for students in Franklinton. The coalition is working to provide water bottles as a tool for health and hydration during the current crisis.Lisa Ellsworth, of Healthy Blue, and Michelle Belanger, of the St. Tammany Health System, have already secured more than 2,000 water bottles for the drive.

“The St. Tammany Health System is a team, a community, a family devoted to helping and healing every patient every time, together,” Belanger said. “We will strengthen the health of our community with compassion, innovation and partnership.”

“Healthy Blue recognizes the challenges low-income and underserved individuals face, and tailors its programs such that health plan members are assured care that is not only accessible but also accountable, comprehensive, integrated and patient-centered,” Ellsworth said. “Healthy Blue provides ongoing community relations and outreach to encourage members to become active participants in their health care. Also, through health education programs, members are empowered to choose and sustain healthy lifestyles.”

The partners and co-chairs helping guide the coalition — including Belanger; Ellsworth; Angela Lambert, of Our Lady of Angels Hospital; and Brittny Costella, of Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center — are key to the success of the coalition.

“I look forward to working alongside community partners and residents on the new FOCUS Franklinton coalition in a greater capacity to help expand the numerous collaborative efforts within this community,” said Costella, who co-chairs the health committee.

Mizell has offered continuous support and encouragement to the group as it seeks out opportunities to improve the community. Mizell also works with Vincent to follow up with community workgroups and residents.

“It is becoming more and more evident that we must work collaboratively if we are to effectively address the needs and concerns in our community,” Vincent said.

The next coalition meeting will be held online in September. Community partners or residents interested in joining the coalition should contact Vincent at or 985-839-7855 or Mizell’s office at 985-839-3936.

The coalition welcomes all who want to work together to make positive changes in our community to join the FOCUS coalition.

Sponsors are still needed for the Focus on Hydration water bottle project. Individuals who would like to donate or contribute to the project can contact Vincent at

Beth Blackwell carries box of water bottles.

LSU AgCenter Washington Parish chair Beth Blackwell Putnam carries a box of donated water bottles for the Focus on Hydration project. Photo by Christi Mitchell/LSU AgCenter

Larry Frieman, Beth Sherman Mizell and Malinda Brumfield-White.

A community forum was held in Franklinton prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings are currently held virtually. From left to right are Louisiana state Rep. Larry Frieman, state Sen. Beth Sherman Mizell and state Rep. Malinda Brumfield-White. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

9/1/2020 1:37:00 AM
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