This post was written by David Richards.

Community health programs are the bedrock for addressing social determinants of health. Community leaders and residents often know their region’s most pressing health concerns and the best solutions to confront them. Through door-to-door surveys, localized health planning and policies, and community events, these programs — from implementing complete streets initiatives to creating community gardens — can achieve significant results.

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, a $1.5 million prize competition for small and mid-sized U.S. cities and counties, and federally recognized tribes, launched in 2016 in an effort to kick-start 50 community health programs nationwide. These HealthyCommunity50 projects strive to improve measurable health outcomes and promote health and wellness, and equity and social interaction. Nearly two years into the Challenge, the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor are beginning to blossom.

To celebrate those achievements, the Aetna Foundation, along with the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Counties, are recognizing 10 community health programs with the Spotlight Award as part of the Challenge. The Spotlight Award works to highlight several of the participating cities and counties that have gone above and beyond to tackle their local social determinants of health.

“Since the Challenge launched, we have seen numerous improvements and advancements in the health of the 50 participating communities,” said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD. “The Spotlight Awards are a moment to showcase the innovative work being done in cities and counties to address social determinants of health.”

The 10 Spotlight awardees will receive a $25,000 prize to further support their Challenge programs, which will help build sustainable models that can be used in other communities. In addition, five more organizations will receive a $10,000 prize as honorable mention awardees to help accelerate and advance their work.

“Where a person lives has a profound impact on how they live – particularly when it comes to their health,” said Mark T. Bertolini, chairman of the Aetna Foundation and chairman and CEO of Aetna. “The Spotlight Award recipients are outstanding examples of how important progress can be made when communities work together to look at the biggest issues facing their neighborhoods and develop healthy, home-grown solutions.”

The goal of the Spotlight Award is to highlight early success stories from participants that have demonstrated significant progress since the start of the Challenge. The selected programs have identified creative partnerships and enacted programs that target the unique health issues facing their communities in meaningful ways.

The 10 finalists: Bridgeport, Connecticut; Camden, New Jersey; Chatham County, North Carolina; Danville, Virginia; Leon County, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Miami, Florida; Thurston County, Washington; and Waco-McLennan County, Texas.

The five honorable mentions: Baltimore, Maryland; Chester County, Pennsylvania; Durham and Cabarrus County, North Carolina; Jersey City, New Jersey; and St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Communities invest heavily in local residents’ health and well-being, often serving as a safety net for low-income and vulnerable residents,” said NACo President Roy Charles Brooks. “We know just as each community is unique, so too are the health challenges they face. These award winners are examples of what can be achieved when counties work with community partners to solve serious, complex public health issues.”

All HealthyCommunity50 projects have made incredible progress in their communities. Check out the map page to learn more about how participants are improving health in the areas of healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors and environmental exposures.