Alyia Smith-Parker Gaskins, Senior Associate, Health and Wellness, National League of Cities

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Can you explain what you do at the National League of Cities and how your work impacts cities?
I am a Senior Associate for the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Health and Wellness Team. In this role, I help local elected officials, their staff, and community partners adopt and implement policies, programs and practices to improve health and well-being. Through research, technical assistance and collaboration my work helps city leaders create healthier communities where children and families live, learn, work and play.

What are some initiatives or projects you are currently working on that you find most important?
Since 2010, NLC has served as the lead partner for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties (LMCTC) initiative. Over 500 sites have committed to the goals of the LMCTC, and well over 70 cities, towns and counties have reached the highest possible level of achievement in the program. To build upon this success, NLC is leading a new effort to educate, train and build the capacity of mayors and city-level leaders to address the social determinants of health and reduce disparities. Over the next three years, with generous funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we will engage mayors and city leaders in problem-solving sessions, trainings and peer-learning networks to ensure health is a key factor in their decisions across a range of issues that affect the quality of life and health of children and families, including education, housing and community development.

What are some challenges you see happening in communities today and how does working with NLC help in changing and strengthening these issues and communities?
The availability and quality of neighborhood services and resources such as child care, high performing schools, affordable housing, and access to healthy food have a major impact on the ability of children and families to make choices that support healthy growth and development. Children growing up in communities that lack these supports often suffer poorer health outcomes than their peers, also known as health disparities. Health disparities negatively impact children, families, and local economies. NLC’s Health and Wellness team is helping city leaders ensure health is a key priority and to adopt an integrated approach that is driven by data and an intentional focus on equity.

NLC members have a direct connection to the communities you work with. What advice do you have for newly elected officials/ city staff?
Contact us. NLC has a wealth of resources and partnerships to help newly elected officials and city staff build the skills they need to build healthy, more vibrant communities.

Where is your favorite place/dish to eat in the city?
Fresh crabs from the Wharf.