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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Perspectives January 2014

Sara Merz - Headshot--reduced

Sara Merz, AHA Executive Director

Wow, what a first week! As I write this message after one week on the job at AHA, I’m so happy to be on board and am excited to connect with all of you who are doing such incredible work to make this a healthy, happy and prosperous county.

Improving the health of Wake County residents benefits the entire community – with health benefits as well as economic and quality-of-life benefits. I grew up on a farm where we grew our food and where physical activity was part of daily life. That experience has led me to see this work as both a health improvement project, and a happiness project. My motivating desire is to improve people’s lives. I believe the most effective way to get this outcome is through shifts in policy, systems and environments which affect large groups of people.

In the Twin Cities, I co-founded and built Ramsey County’s Active Living initiative. Some of our founding principles were gleaned from Active Living By Design’s work, national experts based right here in the Triangle. (I still reference their “5 Ps,” my favorite of which are partnerships, policy change and physical infrastructure!) We got a lot of help from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, which used our award-winning organization as a statewide model for their grant-making.

I’m very glad to see that policy, systems and environmental change is highlighted in AHA’s new Strategic Plan. We’re excited to use this approach as we continue to look to work in ways that will have the greatest lasting impact on this community and long-term health of its residents.

We are fortunate to have you all as partners, and to have best practices and successful initiatives to draw on as resources. There is such exciting potential to continue to expand this work. I have an ambitious 90-day plan and look forward to connecting with all of you through work group meetings, our upcoming Quarterly Meeting (Feb. 14) and in other ways as well.

Thank You!

I also would like to thank my predecessors, Sheree Vodicka and Laura Aiken, for their work defining and building this organization. Michele McKinley has carried AHA through two transitions, and has been an invaluable resource my first week. Her knowledge and expertise – and her kind laughter – is exactly what I need to transition into this role.

Thank you to AHA’s amazing and committed Executive Committee. They completed a strategic planning process last spring with staff and have worked to build sustainability for the organization. And to the YMCA of the Triangle, a huge “thank you” for supporting AHA as our new fiscal agent and providing AHA a new physical home as well at the YMCA Association Resource Center.  I thank our partner WakeMed Health & Hospitals, which helped us make this transition, and for their ongoing support as well.

To all of you who have reached out to me as partners and community members, thank you for your work to improve health in this community. I’m looking forward to connecting in person if we haven’t already.

Sara worked in county government and at the state senate in Minnesota for 15 years focusing on policy development and collaborative problem solving. She has a BA from Macalester College in sociology and English and an MBA focusing on conflict management from Hamline University. Sara practices yoga, used to teach meditation, and has been exploring the world of raw foods.

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