ASHTO grantees working to promote health equity within their communities

Wilderness Louisville, the nonprofit partner supporting the West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative (WLORI), has received a $50,000 award to evaluate program strategies implemented through the Louisville is Engaging Children Outdoors (ECHO) program.

The award comes from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) through their “Improving Social Determinants of Health: Getting Further Faster” program, which supports community partnerships in collecting information on effective strategies for addressing social determinants of health (SDoH).

“I’d like to thank ASTHO for this award, which acknowledges the importance of the ECHO program and Wilderness Louisville’s work in bringing nature-based programming into areas where access to these experiences are limited,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “The program has brought outdoor education to thousands of children in Louisville throughout the last decade, and this award will ensure that work will continue and grow.”

Louisville ECHO is the outdoor education initiative operated by WLORI and aims to address SDoH related to the built environment, social connectedness, education access, and job attainment through investing in public park infrastructure improvements and supporting inclusive programming centered on nature education and outdoor recreation. Over the past eight years, Wilderness Louisville has raised a total of $374,500 in support of Louisville ECHO, facilitating the program’s expansion to serve approximately 2,500 youth ages 3-21 annually.

ASTHO and its partner, the National Association for County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), have awarded over $2 million to 42 multi-sector partnerships across the nation working to advance health equity in their communities. Grantees work on improving various SDoH related to chronic disease including the built environment, community-clinical linkages, food insecurity, social connectedness, and tobacco-free policy. Find out more here: Public Health Groups Invest in National Evaluation of Social Determinants of Health

“It’s important to coordinate across various sectors to ensure all children in our communities are receiving the services they need to thrive. Louisville ECHO, through its partnership with Jefferson County Public Schools and other community organizations, is doing its part to increase equitable access to nature and nature programming for our students in west Louisville,” said Dr. Krista Drescher-Burke, Manager of Community Data and Program Evaluation for JCPS’s Diversity, Equity, & Poverty Programs Division. Dr. Drescher-Burke has been a Wilderness Louisville board member for nearly two years.

Both Louisville ECHO and WLORI have been incorporated into policy, including in the most recent Health Equity Report (2017) released by Metro’s Center for Health Equity (CHE), and 2019’s Metro Community Resilience Strategy, as part of efforts to improve health equity through fostering greater access to the outdoors and nature-related programming.

“The pandemic has highlighted various inequities in our community, including lack of access to safe, natural spaces for the city’s BIPOC residents. Realizing the benefits of time spent in nature on physical and mental health outcomes, both WLORI and Louisville ECHO are doing their part to advance health equity in our city,” said T Benicio Gonzales, CHE director.

Both Gonzales and Dr. Drescher-Burke are core team members for this project, along with Bennett Knox, Executive Director of Wilderness Louisville, and Parks Administrator for the Natural Areas Division of Louisville Parks & Recreation.

Other team members include Dr. David Roelfs, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the University of Louisville’s (UofL) Department of Sociology, Victory Osezua, Ph.D. Candidate at UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences, and Betty J. Adkins, Director of Community Resource Development for Metro’s Office of Performance Improvement. With a consultant provided by ASTHO, the team will analyze the effectiveness of Louisville ECHO’s strategies to improve SDoH for program participants.

“I am really looking forward to the work that unfolds over the next six months as a result of this opportunity,” Dr. Roelfs said. “Learning what other related initiatives from across the country are doing, getting the perspective of an outside evaluator, and having an intense period of critical reflection on our own program are all important for the next stages of hopefully accelerated growth.”

Wilderness Louisville, Inc. is the 501(c)(3) non-profit that raises funds in support of the Louisville Parks and Recreation Department’s Natural Areas Division, based at the 6,800-acre Jefferson Memorial Forest (JMF). Wilderness Louisville’s Mission is to be the champion for Louisville’s natural areas, from the nation’s largest municipally-owned deciduous urban forest, Jefferson Memorial Forest, to the ones in your backyard. Since its inception in 2013, WL has raised funds to support land conservation and capital facility improvement, and ecological restoration activities. Wilderness Louisville’s board is committed to promoting equitable access to the outdoors and since 2015 it has provided approximately $374,500 to sustain and grow the Louisville ECHO program and enhance opportunities in the community.  Find out more by clicking the ‘Who Are We’ tab above and follow Wilderness Louisville on Facebook to stay up to date.

Louisville ECHO is a grant-funded outdoor education and recreation initiative managed by Jefferson Memorial Forest and the Natural Areas Division of Louisville Parks & Recreation that is focused on improving equitable access to the outdoors for Louisville youth and families. Louisville ECHO is comprised of four complementary components: school-based outdoor experiential learning, out-of-school time education/recreation, an outdoor job training and employment component, and annual community events. Find out more at, Facebook:, and Instagram: @louisvilleecho

ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing public health agencies in the United States, the U.S. Territories, and the District of Columbia, and over 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, formulate and influence sound public health policy and ensure excellence in state-based public health practice. ASTHO’s primary function is to track, evaluate, and advise members on the impact and formation of public or private health policy which may affect them and to provide them with guidance and technical assistance on improving the nation’s health. Find out more at, Twitter: @ASTHO

For grant specific information, visit