Championing Health in New Braunfels, Texas: An Interview with Micaeli Smith

As the Physical Education, Health & Wellness Coordinator for Comal ISD, Micaeli Smith supports coordinated school health and other wellness initiatives in her city of New Braunfels. A tireless health advocate and member of It’s Time Texas’ new Community Lab, she’s leading the charge to start a local Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council, uniting dozens of stakeholders in a cross-sector effort to build a healthier, happier community.

How did the idea for the Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council come about?

We approach wellness a bit differently in our district. We have a comprehensive wellness initiative called Comal Fit that seeks to implement and grow programs that support wellness for our students, our staff, their families, and the community at large. The current chair of our School Health Advisory Council also happens to be the co-chair of the Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council in San Antonio. I have seen the work that they are doing and was eager to start a collaborative like that here in New Braunfels, so that we could join together to engage our community in wellness.

What was the need that you were seeing in your community?

Our community is blessed with lots of opportunities to engage in activity outdoors. We have two beautiful rivers. We have a trails alliance. So, I think that the momentum was already starting to build to really push health and wellness as a priority for our citizens. Such great work is already being done by the Comal Trails Alliance, by the mental health supporters in our community, and by the school districts. My hope was that if we all came to the same table, we could combine all those individual efforts to create an even greater impact.

How did you make the connection to It’s Time Texas’ Community Lab?

I had worked with It’s Time Texas on Comal Fit and other initiatives in our PE and health classes. The connection to Community Lab came when we invited It’s Time Texas staff to help plan our first info session, where we invited community stakeholders to come learn a little about what a Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council is and why we were hoping to start one in our community. It takes a village to improve community health, and moving forward, we will definitely be benefitting from the support of other collaboratives that have either been established and have gone through those beginning phases or who are currently in those early stages of development with us.

What has it been like getting your health collaborative up and running?

Going back to the beginning, I sent an email to the Mayor, who invited me to present the idea to City Council. They were all supportive, so I worked with City staff to start brainstorming resources and stakeholders in our community, thinking really holistically in terms of health and wellness. We reached out to every suggested sector using the It’s Time Texas toolkit, including stakeholders from all areas of wellness – mental health, public health, healthcare, fitness, both school districts, etc. – along with influencers in the community that could help energize the group and really get the message out. Ballpark, I would say anywhere from 20 to 30 people attended our first meeting. Building on the momentum from our first meeting, we have plans now to meet again to start really looking at community health assessments and set some goals for the group.

What is driving participation among the group?

We all work in our specific niches in wellness, so I think that people are excited about the collaborative impact that we could have working together. What I’m most excited about is that initial phase of assessment to determine needs and areas of opportunity, so we can start implementing initiatives for positive change.  One thing that will probably continue to be a challenge is just trying to carve out time, but I’m encouraged that the motivation and enthusiasm are there.

What are you hopeful for?

I’m hopeful that this initiative becomes a success, and that we will create a positive impact in our community by increasing opportunities for citizens to connect with wellness.

About Community Lab

The It’s Time Texas Community Lab is an innovative, web-based forum providing free, interactive training and support to community health collaboratives (CHCs) throughout Texas. Community Lab members have the opportunity to learn best practices from experts in the field while participating in monthly web conferences to exchange ideas, successes, and challenges with members from other CHCs working toward similar health improvement goals. Learn more>>