Quality of Life, or Lack Thereof: Island University a Key Partner for Making Lasting Impacts in Brooks County

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Imagine living in a community with one of the lowest quality of life ratings in Texas. Your family and friends don’t have access to reliable medical, dental, and mental health care. One in three of your neighbors live in poverty – a number that only continues to rise. Teen pregnancy rates in your community are the highest in the state. Thirty percent of the adult population hasn’t obtained high school diplomas. Disheartening stories of hardship, loss, and depression have become all too commonplace.

Now, imagine a large-scale solution to fix these issues.

One member of the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi family, Dr. Stephen Lenz, associate professor of counseling education, is proud to be part of this transformation. He and his students have partnered with Community Action Corporation of South Texas (CACOST) on a project titled Behavioral and Health Outreach Leadership Development (BHOLD). BHOLD recently received $410,000 from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health for a collaborative project with a single goal: support citizen-driven strategies for a healthier community in Brooks County – an area which ranks 242 out of 243 counties in Texas for low quality of life.

“What we are seeing in Brooks and other rural counties are the effects that health inequality has on Texans over time,” said Lenz. “Yes, there are individual choices we could make to improve our physical and mental well-being, yet only some aspects of our health status are associated with those choices. The well-being of ourselves, our children, and our neighbors is also greatly influenced by an interplay of policies, norms, and structures. This project is an opportunity to create solutions upstream to those levels of engagement.”

As a mental health professional, Lenz will support better access and utilization to mental health services in this small Brooks County community centered around Falfurrias – one that suffered a disproportionally high number of five suicides last year. Lenz, along with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi doctoral students, will bring their unique expertise to assist CACOST in evaluating Brooks County health care through community member surveys, historical document review, town hall meetings, capacity and utilization assessments, and action planning. Data gathered through the next 3 years will allow BHOLD to move onto the next step of the project, which involves forming a programmatic solution that will have the biggest impact possible.

“No one knows a community like the folks who drive the streets, sell the groceries, teach the students, and work in the local businesses,” said Lenz. “The hallmark of the BHOLD project is meaningful involvement of community members in all of our activities, especially those who have been historically underrepresented. If we are to improve the quality of life in Brooks County, the words we speak and the works we do should represent the echoed voices of everyone.”

Along with CACOST and A&M-Corpus Christi, other members of the BHOLD collaborative include Brooks County Independent School District, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Corpus Christi, and Coastal Plains Community Center.

“We are lucky to be partnering with The Hogg Foundation, CACOST, and our other collaborative members,” said Lenz. “Over time, with community members side-by-side, I am confident we will be able to support the revitalization of many health-promoting activities in Brooks County. As the collaborative become more synergistic over time, it is possible that we could witness a community full of citizens who not only bounce back from physical and mental health adversity but bounce forward in some very special ways.”