Though I’m from Canada, since starting my 4-week rotation at the Center for Rural Health as part of my Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of British Columbia, I have discovered that anyone growing up in Arizona can list the 5 C’s of the state: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. After my trip with Dr. Lynda Bergsma and MPH & Law Student, Cora Crecelius, to the rural town of Safford in Graham County, I am suggesting another list of the 5 C’s, this list for rural Arizona: community, collaboration, creativity, camaraderie, and coming home.
Throughout the day, it became increasingly clear that community is strong in Safford. At the Graham County Senior Citizen Center, we saw community workers preparing meals to be delivered to seniors. At the Graham County Rehabilitation Center (GCRC) Recycling Center, Main Street Café and the Graham County Thrift Store, all of which employ people with disabilities, we witnessed citizens greeting each other by first name and welcoming us to their community. I instantly felt the warmth that rural places seem to exude. This strong sense of community provides a solid foundation for improved health outcomes.
We spent the day with Royce Hunt, a vibrant, passionate, 5th generation Saffordian. She is the program manager of South Eastern Arizona Community Unique Services (SEACUS), an organization whose ultimate goal is to provide seniors with the option of growing old in the comfort and safety of their own home. Royce welcomed the prospect of collaboration with College of Public Health Center for Rural Health (CRH). She was excited that CRH wanted to help with a community-based project she has been dreaming of developing for years, that is, to train and empower high-functioning seniors, who may be searching for purpose in their retired years, to make daily check-in phone-calls to home-bound seniors. Royce also described extensive collaboration with other groups within Safford, such as SEACUS securing accommodations for impoverished seniors and the GCRC Thrift Shop providing the furniture.
I was delighted by the creativity emerging from this rural community. At the GCRC Recycling Center, people with disabilities sort donated clothing for the Thrift Shop. Rather than being sent to the landfill, worn-out clothing, deemed inappropriate for the Thrift Shop, are cut into rags and sold to the local copper mine and other local businesses. Other examples of creativity visible along Main Street include an old retro pharmacy with a soda bar converted into a trendy coffee shop, another coffee shop outfitted with funky décor and outdoor seating, and a newly opened recording studio! A local dream to encourage intergenerational teaching of life skills, such as sewing and canning, by seniors for younger people is another example.
Throughout the day, I enjoyed smiles, jokes, and sharing of stories. Royce told us about community members supporting each other in terms of physical activity goals, companionship for isolated community members, and delivering meals and supplies to stranded people during a flood. Safford is an essential stop along the Salsa Trail, an annual southwestern food festival, when residents and visitors of Graham County get together and enjoy “good food and friendly folks.”
A common thread seemed to emerge when we asked what brought them to Safford. The refrain sounded something like this: “When I was growing up here, I couldn’t wait to leave, but then after I was away for a bit, I couldn’t wait to come back!” It seems that experiencing urban areas and other cultures is valuable, but Safford, and other rural communities, draws those who leave to come home. For health care providers originally from rural areas but trained in urban areas, we must harness this draw for them to come home and care for their communities.
Celia is a 2008 University of Saskatchewan Bachelor of Pharmacy graduate and currently a Visiting Scholar with the Center for Rural Health. She is now in her second year of her Doctor of Pharmacy program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. She has an interest in primary care, particularly interdisciplinary, collaborative team models of care. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling, hiking, playing ultimate frisbee and soccer, cooking, and learning new languages.