Areas of Focus

Quality of Life


Before 2030, Polk County will have a Quality of Life that encourages diverse backgrounds to live in harmony while developing physically, spiritually, mentally, and culturally, within a healthy and safe environment.

The Quality of Life LEAD Team is comprised of representatives from across Polk County including non-profits, social services, government, health care, education, and faith-based organizations. Through this diverse membership, different perspectives are gleaned when probing the wide ranging and complex issues contributing to the Quality of Life in Polk County.

Although health is one of the important domains of quality of life, there are many other aspects — jobs, housing, schools, as well as natural and built environments. Intangibles such as culture, values, and spirituality are also key to overall quality of life that add to the complexity of its definition.
Throughout the Fall of 2018, the Team hosted a number of guest speakers and explored a variety of topics in order to set the Team’s focus for the coming year. The Team also sought feedback and guidance from other Polk Vision LEAD Teams to determine how best to align efforts in achieving the long term vision of the organization.

What the Team discovered was that regardless of the topic, a recurring observation was the need for deeper awareness, understanding and broader community engagement. Polk County is so vast that even providers serving the same population can be unaware of the other’s range of services. In an attempt to best manage these efforts, the Team decided to focus on the Winter Haven community, and then methodically advance their work to other areas of the County.

Did you know?

25.4% of Polk County Children (18 and under) Live in Poverty

FL Office of Economic and Demographic Research (2016)

16.4% of Polk County Residents Live in Poverty

FL Office of Economic and Demographic Research (2016)

Over 3,736 Polk County School Students Experienced Homelessness

(Polk County Public Schools 2018-2019)

Current and future community outreach strategies are geared to share information and resources through an ongoing learning network allowing cross- sector collaboration with other Polk Vision LEAD Teams. Progress is being made on improving engagement through knowledge and information sharing among Team members. Broadening community-wide involvement will further assist in linking people to services, as well as create opportunities to connect, learn, and engage … for all aspects of quality of life.

Polk Vision Quality of Life Initiatives:

We need to look at the places where there are no lanes intersecting so that we can fill in those gaps in services through connectivity.


Building a Healthier Polk

In 2012, the Building a Healthier Polk Initiative began as a community-driven response to the startling obesity rates in Polk County. With obesity directly linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes which are major causes of death and preventable hospital stays, the data galvanized a movement among stakeholders across Polk County. Working cooperatively with the Florida Department of Health, Polk Vision convened a large cross-sector group of subject matter experts to prioritize objectives in addressing the alarming rate of obesity in our community. This group came to be known as Building a Healthier Polk.

Reducing the obesity rate and improving the physical health of our citizens will continue to be of great importance to the work of collaborative partners. However Polk County’s 2019 Community Health Assessment ranked mental health problems including suicide as the #1 most important health problem to address in order to improve the health of the community. With a reported rise in the numbers of suicides, hospitalizations for mental disorders and self-inflicted injuries, the call for collaborative action is clear.

During the next year, Polk Vision together with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County and other key partners will begin exploring how the Building a Healthier Polk initiative can be expanded to include ways to better align supports for mental and behavioral health services in our community.

Exploring Behavioral Health

The 2019 Community Health Assessment conducted by the Florida Department of Health in Polk County ranked mental health as the most important health problem facing our community. With a reported rise in the numbers of suicides, hospitalizations, mental disorders, and self-inflicted injuries, the call for collaborative action became clear.  

In response, Polk Vision convened a Team focused on Exploring how we might best address the Behavioral Health needs in our community. Following a period of review and consideration, Polk Vision secured the services of a qualified firm, Crescendo Consulting Group, to complete a resource map, gap analysis, and to facilitate the development of a comprehensive strategic plan addressing Behavioral Health service gaps in Polk County.

Project Goals: 

  • Improve the quality of life of Polk County residents by addressing the behavioral health needs in the community. 
  • Develop a comprehensive behavioral health strategic plan and behavioral health system access and process mapping. Identify system/resources that are valued and working well; help determine how they may work together more efficiently.
  • Identify and prioritize system gaps and community needs.
  • Engage a broad set of stakeholders; build consensus around results and actions.
  • Use resources more efficiently – focusing on a finite set of objectives, establishing a timeline for results, “work with the willing” to achieve results.

Project Activities and Timeline: 

The Study commenced in July of 2020 and is tracking for completion in March of 2021. A comprehensive written report will be produced and a series of formal presentations to countywide stakeholders will be held in March and April.  

New Behavioral Health Study

Food Security Council

The Polk County Food Security Council is a collaborative group of cross-sector representatives dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our community has equitable access to sufficient quantities of consistently available healthy, nutritious food. 

Committed to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusivity, the Council works to achieve its mission through innovative thought leadership and the implementation of strategically aligned hunger relief activities aimed at achieving sustained improvement.   

Did you know?

In Polk County, 78% of the population live in poverty. 

U S Census Bureau, ACS 5 Year Estimates 2013- 2017

The Food Insecurity Rate is reported to be 11.2% of the population. 

That is 80,140 people in Polk County living with food insecurity; 16,830 are children.

Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap, 2021:

Now in 2021, we are able to see the longer lasting effects, with the missing meal count increasing by 17% to a state average of 19,808,725 meals per week. Learn more!

Food Insecurity in Polk County

Food insecurity is one way to measure and assess the risk of hunger.

Food insecurity refers to the USDA’s measure of the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time.  Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods3.  

 3 Feeding America

Build Collaboration and Alignment between Programs:
The Council strengthens communication and collaboration between public and private groups working to increase food security in Polk County.

Volunteers from House of Hope and The Way Church prepare for a drive thru mobile pantry in Winter Haven provided by the United Way of Central Florida George W. Jenkins End Hunger Initiative.

Council Sub Committees:
The development of sub-committees allows the Council as a whole to address issues more completely. Each Council member is asked to serve on one committee. FSC Steering Committee – appointed – Responsible for annual Food Security Summit, Food Security Council charter, quarterly council meetings, GIS map, Tactical Plan development, sub-committee commissioning monthly reporting to Polk Vision Operating Board.

The FSC Agriculture Committee researches current local food systems that address food insecurity and catalogue options for residents and community-based food distributors. The committee works to connect local agriculture producers to food insecurity issues that may be addressed within Polk County and neighboring counties.

Disaster Preparedness/Response:
The Disaster Preparedness Committee educates themselves on food resources and assets made available during times of disaster, researches and documenst successes and challenges of past responses, identifies increased capacity of storage and transportation resource during events, and is available to work closely with Polk Emergency Management in assisting where needed pre- and post-event.

2nd Annual Hunger Action Summit

Polk County Public Schools School Nutrition Employees Preparing Grab & Go meals for distribution at drive thru locations across Polk County.

Did you know?

The “Meal Deficit” in Polk County is reported to be over 29 million meals missed annually.  

 Feeding Florida, The Meal Deficit Metric Project, March 2020

Primary Care

Dr. Anchundia, a pediatrician with Central Florida Health Care Center in Haines City, assists a patient with making healthy choices using the 5-2-1-0 prescription.

For the past several years, the Primary Care Team has focused on preventing and reducing childhood obesity through the 5-2-1-0 prescription program.

This program aims to provide simple steps towards achieving and maintaining a healthy weight among children by developing healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

School Health

Student at Inwood Elementary having her helmet fitted in preparation for Bike to School Day.

Establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is easier and more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Recognizing that public health and education serve the same children, there has been a call for greater alignment between the education system and health sectors. This includes an intentional integration and collaboration of services aimed at improving each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

In response to this call, the Polk Vision School Health LEAD Team began implementation of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) framework during year one of the Healthy Schools pilot.

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