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  • Communities of Focus

    We help improve well-being in communities with fewer opportunities for good health.

    Zip codes shouldn’t matter

    Zip codes shouldn’t decide people’s health. Neither should income or any other social or economic factor. But some Pierce County communities offer less access to opportunities to improve health than others.

    We’re working to change that. We’re co-creating strategies with our Communities of Focus to help ensure people who live, work and play there have a fair chance to be healthy no matter the zip code.

    People who live in our Communities of Focus experience greater challenges to earn an income that’s not just livable but allows them to thrive. They also face barriers to access higher education and training. And those communities offer fewer options for affordable housing, transportation and healthy foods.

    These factors all affect health and life expectancy. Communities of Focus is an essential program in our work to address systemic problems that harm people’s well-being in Pierce County.

    Together, we co-created our vision statement with partners from all 6 Communities of Focus.

    Springbrook Park Creek Bridge


    Communities of Focus are equitable neighborhoods where all people who live, learn, work and play thrive. (Photo: Springbrook Park.)

    A thoughtful process to choose communities

    When we began, we asked ourselves three questions:

    • What does the data tell us?
    • What do people in the community tell us is important?
    • Which communities are interested in partnering with us and have the assets in place to do so?

    We began with the 2015 Tacoma-Pierce County Health Equity Assessment. It compared people’s health in each Pierce County zip code. We looked at nine data points:

    • Life expectancy.
    • Poverty.
    • Unemployment.
    • High school graduation.
    • Frequency of mental distress.
    • Smoking.
    • Obesity.
    • Diabetes.
    • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

    We came up with a list of 14 zip codes where those data points showed people had the worst health outcomes and fewest opportunities to improve them.

    We then looked at how prepared we were to begin work in each area, as well as which communities were interested and able to work with us. We decided to start with places in which we’d already built relationships and begun the kind of work that supports lasting changes.

    In 2017, we asked East Tacoma, Springbrook and Key Peninsula to partner with us as the first Communities of Focus. In 2018, we added White River, South Tacoma and Parkland.


    We partner with Communities of Focus to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships to address inequities, strengthen partnerships and improve the overall health of Pierce County.

    The work to improve community health

    Once we’d established the Communities of Focus, we rolled up our sleeves. Between 2017 and February 2020, we worked with community partners to:

    • Develop priorities. We used data and reached out to people to learn what they cared about. We looked for any overlap between our work and those priorities. We recruited staff with an emphasis on lived experience and trusted relationships.
    • Create programs, policies, systems and environmental changes to improve health.
    • Focus our work and measure it based on four strategies:
      • Customer service, including how we make changes to the way we do our work based on community feedback.
      • Partnerships, which lead to meaningful change in the community.
      • Investments, including staffingcontracts and participatory budgeting.
      • Civic engagement, which gives people a chance to lead and get more involved in their community Our goal is to share our platform with community leaders and empower emerging leaders to find their voices.

    A starting point for our COVID-19 work

    When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we were able to quickly help our Communities of Focus. Our work and partnerships allowed us to:

    • Engage groups COVID-19 disproportionately harmed on how best to help.
      • We held listening sessions and learned how to help with things like food justice, safe and affordable housing, economic security, transportation and behavioral health.
    • Create trusted testing sites, hand out masks, educate and engage people.
    • Find trusted voices to help amplify vaccine messages.
    • Hold more than 375 vaccine clinics in locations communities trusted.
    • Invest more than $800,000 in community-based groups serving our Communities of Focus and People of Color.

    Our future

    Our COVID-19 work will help guide our Communities of Focus work forward. We learned how important it is to do things like:

    • Co-create with partners and people who live, work and play in these communities.
    • Center community leadership in decision-making.
    • Measure each community’s strengths and needs.

    We’ll use those lessons as we reorganize and refocus. We’ll work toward community-driven solutions to address complex problems like racism, housing and food access.

    If you’d like to help, you can:

    • Attend our meetings for partners and people who live, work and play in these communities. We hold those meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
    • Invest time and money in Communities of Focus.
    • Ask how you can join the community-led planning meetings in each Community of Focus.
    • Offer training and opportunities for community leadership.
    • Share information about CoF with others.
    • Contribute ideas and suggestions to improve conditions for health in CoF.

    Want to work with our Communities of Focus? Email us at

    Grant writing help

    Need help writing grants? We have some tools for you!

    Watch our Grant Writing 101 Training provided by our partnership with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and find some other helpful resources.

    Grant Writing 101 Facts

    Grant Writing Worksheet

    Readiness Checklist

    Mission and Needs Checklist

    Communities of Focus in the news

    Learn more