Leslie Levine Talks About Her Role as a Resource and “Connector” for LiveWell and its Community Partners

Leslie Levine has been working for LiveWell Colorado for 10 years, since the organization began as a program housed in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In her current role as partnership engagement manager, Leslie serves as a resource and “connector” for LiveWell and its community partners—including coalitions, municipalities, school districts, farmers markets, public health students and advocates, and other organizations—to advance access to healthy eating and active living for low income communities and people of color. We sat down with Leslie to learn more about the experience and passion she brings to this work.

What led you to work for LiveWell Colorado?
I’ve had a passion for chronic disease prevention since college. I spent the beginning of my career working at the national level—first at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then at the National Conference of State Legislatures. I took the role at LiveWell because I was ready to make an impact closer to home.

What are some of the biggest successes you’ve seen throughout your years at LiveWell?
I’m always proud to see so many of our community coalitions continue their work after the initial funding relationship with LiveWell has ended. For example, the Wheat Ridge Active Transportation Advisory Team in partnership with the Jeffco Public Health Active Living Coalition is sustaining the active transportation work initiated by LiveWell Wheat Ridge. And the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition (formerly LiveWell Alamosa) obtained 501c3 nonprofit status to help them best continue working toward their mission to “foster an equitable local food system that restores the health of the people, community, economy and ecosystem.” The Coalition has continued to grow under the leadership of Liza Marron. Recently they had a major win when they received a Farm to School grant from the USDA, and LiveWell plans to support the coalition’s Farm to School efforts moving forward.

Earlier this year, LiveWell announced its evolved mission and vision statements, values, and goals. Why is this important and how does it apply to your role?
Clearly stating our commitment to partnering with communities to address health inequity is critical to guiding our work. Throughout my years working closely with communities all over the state, I’ve gained a deep understanding of how challenging it can be to find the resources to do public health work at the local level, especially in low-income rural communities.

For example, I’ve been working Cindy Campbell of LiveWell Huerfano County to address a lack of healthy living opportunities in Walsenburg, where 64.2 percent of the population is Hispanic and the poverty rate (32.2 percent) is more than twice as high as the state’s (15.2 percent). The community initially identified a need for more physical activity opportunities indoors, which led to the creation of a new recreation center. Then they had to figure out what activities the community was interested in, and build local capacity to offer those activities. So I helped Cindy connect with Melissa Jackson, a graduate student from Michigan who was interested in working with LiveWell for her practicum. Melissa had a background in kinesiology/exercise science and also brought skills in grant writing, evaluation, and creative problem solving to the table. She helped Cindy and her team with organizing and community outreach, and even initiated some innovative new programs at the rec center. Melissa, in turn, benefitted from the unique experience of working on public health issues in a low income rural community. These are the kinds of powerful, impactful, mutually beneficial relationships I seek to create and strengthen every day in my work.

What’s happening or coming up at LiveWell that you’re especially excited to work on?
I’ve supported Colorado Action for Healthy Kids a lot over the years. The organization specifically works with parents to build their capacity to be school wellness champions. It is a nice complement to our advocacy work at the local and state level. This September, LiveWell is partnering with Action for Healthy Kids, Colorado PTA, and Wellness Training Specialists to host a free parent workshop titled, “Creating Healthy Schools: What Parents Need to Know | How to Help Students Eat Better and Move More” in three southwest Colorado cities. All interested parents and caregivers are invited to learn more and register at ActionforHealthyKids.org/SW-Colorado-Workshops.