We’re starting our Community Spotlight Series in Hazard, Ky., and this week, we’re hearing from Morgan Kirk, a Community Advocate for WellCare Health Plans. Morgan shares her hopes and dreams for Hazard, and tells us a bit about how she’s advocating for her place.
Who are you, and what roles do you fill in your community?
My name is Morgan Kirk and I get introduced in a variety of ways, from “William’s mom” to “the Community Advocate” to “the lady who lives in the house Les used to rent.” Like many people here, it’s the face and stories you remember most about a person because personal connections mean so much. I have had the good fortune of being raised up in Eastern Kentucky, where our community is a source of pride as big as the mountains protecting it. My love for the area and the people ultimately led me to my current career. I have been a Community Advocate since 2014 for WellCare Health Plans, which provides coverage to individuals eligible for government-sponsored health care plans in an effort to help our community members live better, healthier lives. Our members often have challenges in life that go beyond just health care and we know much of what affects health occurs outside of the doctor’s office. Through our HealthConnections Model, WellCare works to identify and fill gaps in the network of social services to help improve health outcomes for our members and to lower the overall cost of health care. I am blessed that my work encourages me to join with others in our community through a variety of boards and coalitions. Though my work takes me to 18 counties in Eastern Kentucky, Hazard is where I live, grow a garden, and raise my son.
I currently serve as Vice Chair of the Northfork Local Food Board, Secretary for the Steering Committee of InVision Hazard, a board member of the Housing Development Alliance, and I sit on a variety of coalitions in the community including Kids on the Move!, KVEC Health & Wellness, River Arts Greenway, HCTC LGBTQ ALLYance, and am always looking for ways to become more involved. My work with Northfork Local Food is to focus on increasing local, healthy food access to members of our community, which is sometimes downtown at one the summer events called Thursdays on the Triangle. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Hazard on one of those particular Thursdays, it’s a great time to get in some extra steps by taking a walk along the River Arts Greenway before heading over to purchase local food and crafts. As a Steering Committee member for InVision Hazard we focus on bringing together local people to imagine new possibilities, make useful connections, and act together as a vital catalyst for developing an engaging downtown that serves everyone as a vibrant center for community life. This is a great example of how many of the organizations in Hazard are interconnected and working together.
What do you most appreciate about your community?
As a Community Advocate, I often meet with non-profit organizations to learn about the resources they provide. That information is then placed in our WellCare database to easily find the most appropriate organization to connect with for assistance. I am thankful to know so many people who are passionate about helping, and that deepens my appreciation for this community. For generations, we have been motivated by our compassion for our fellow neighbors as shown by the amount of great work being done in Hazard to change the culture of health in this community. I am blessed to be a part of that movement. Though we all play an individual role in this work, it is the combined efforts of the community increasing healthy food access, building homes for police officers and nurses, and getting the youth involved in more physical activity. A side story I must share to show how wonderful our community is was when someone recently had a medical procedure and posted to social media asking if anyone knew where to buy a particular pillow which would help his comfort level. Before he could check the answers from a host of friends, someone had already dropped off a pillow for his use. Now THAT is something to appreciate.
What’s your vision for Hazard, and what’s a community project you’ve been a part of that makes strides towards that vision?
I want to see a thriving community of happy, healthy individuals. While a variety of projects are working to move the needle a little further towards that goal, I think some of the most impactful steps are being made by the Kids on the Move! Wellness Coalition. This group is working within the school system to reinvigorate the Wellness Councils, provide new refillable water bottle stations, and standing desks to ensure children are more actively engaged in the learning process. Kids on the Move! held an event last year which allowed children the opportunity to go through a large obstacle course and win prizes like books to encourage more reading. I attended the event last year and worked with the children to hula hoop and jump rope. WellCare provided the jump ropes which the children were able to take home with them. This group is also working with a neighboring county to implement a voucher program for children and their families to have increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market.
Who is a member of your community that you admire and why?
My deepest admiration goes to my husband. I am involved in quite a bit in this community and in surrounding areas, which means late nights or nights away from home. My husband worked for a coal company for many years but was laid off last year. This is not an uncommon story in Eastern Kentucky. He is now a stay at home father. He does a lot behind the scenes to better our community, both in the home and through events and activities in the county. He is the reason I am able to work in the community to make a difference and he is the reason I want to do so. We owe it to our loved ones to create a community that will thrive long after we’re gone. We have to start somewhere, and it might as well be here and now.