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A Shared Experience of Colorado Health: From the Park Hill Vantage Point

CCMU_Logo_RGBBy Joe Sammen, Community Partnerships Coordinator, Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved

They say every person has a story to tell and it just so happens Colorado HealthStory wants to hear yours. Modeled after NPR’s StoryCorps program, Colorado HealthStory has collected narratives on health from communities throughout Colorado since early 2011.

Stories range from celebrating the birth of a baby to describing the ups and downs of living with diabetes. And the telling not only provides an outlet for people to discuss their health-related joys and challenges, but it paints a collective picture of health neighborhood by neighborhood. Earlier this year, the HealthStory staff hit the ground recording stories in Park Hill.

Owetta McNeil, a long-time Park Hill resident, shared her story of managing her chronic disease in order to draw attention to this critical health care issue in the neighborhood.

“I’ve had my heart attacks, I have lupus, MS. I think that a lot of positive thinking… and basically understanding my own body and working with it, has brought me to where I am. It’s not 100 percent, but I’m doing the things that I enjoy doing,” said Owetta.

Ms. McNeil’s story joins others from the Park Hill neighborhood, creating a unique mosaic that in itself tells a story of the issues confronting the greater Park Hill community. The HealthStory team found that Park Hill residents have a strong culture of health and wellness and take health care matters into their own hands. Despite this personal accountability, many residents spoke of their challenges living with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

This isn’t surprising; according to the latest statistics from Denver Public Health, the greater Park Hill area has some of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease in Denver. Many people suffering from a chronic disease aren’t able to properly manage the disease, either from lack of access to health care services, lack of health education, or for other reasons. Colorado HealthStory is hoping to change that by getting more residents involved in the conversation.

Colorado HealthStory has hosted two community forums in Park Hill to provide opportunities for local residents to listen to their neighbors’ stories and to discuss local trends and health data relevant to the community. Stories are available to the public on the Colorado HealthStory website (, Facebook, and Twitter.

“We’ve seen the power of collective story sharing in each community we’ve visited. Sharing stories is the most powerful, effective form of communication people have – and when you bring together the stories of a community, it can spark a really powerful discussion.” says Joe Sammen, Community Partnerships Coordinator for the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, one of three partner organizations who run the project (the others are ClinicNET and the Colorado Rural Health Center).

In many communities, those who face the most health hurdles are underserved populations: Latinos, low-income residents, moms, and young Coloradans. Colorado HealthStory looks to give them a voice and lend an ear. It’s true everybody has a story. But change only begins to happen when enough people tell it. That’s when the masses start to listen.

For more information on Colorado HealthStory, or to sign up to tell your story, contact Joe Sammen of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved at or 720.987.9570.

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