Improving Communities and Community Wellness: a Conversation With Nick Jones

Nick Jones is standing in an office building, resting his elbow on a high-top table
The Collaboratory spoke with Vice President of Community Wellness Nick Jones about his role and the innovative community revitalization and wellness work underway at Nationwide Children’s.

Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families has been one of the United States’ leading models for the way a children’s hospital can help improve communities. Much of its success over the last seven years was made possible by Nick Jones.

Jones is now Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s vice president of Community Wellness. He still leads Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families, but his expanded role gives him a greater opportunity to tackle “social determinants of health” – that is, factors outside of medical care that have an impact on health, like housing, education and financial stability.

The Collaboratory spoke with Jones about his role, and the innovative community revitalization and wellness work underway at Nationwide Children’s.


The Collaboratory: You worked at Nationwide Children’s until 2010, then came back in 2016. What drew you the second time?

Nick Jones: The important work the hospital was doing in the community. I left the first time just as some of that work was beginning, especially in housing development. If you had told me then that Nationwide Children’s was going to have programs to prepare high school students for college, or run a group of free tax-prep clinics, or offer financial coaching and first-time homeowner clinics, I would have been like, “Really. A children’s hospital?”

But the hospital has doubled down on it. The board and our senior leadership have made these things a priority because of they effect they have on child health. That’s why I’m here.


Collaboratory: How has Nationwide Children’s managed to have so much success with these programs?

Jones: If it had just been Nationwide Children’s doing this, it would not have been so successful. You really must have the support and the trust of the communities you’re working in. Before about 20 years ago, people in the South Side of Columbus would have said that Nationwide Children’s was not a very good neighbor. So we’ve had to be very intentional about building trust in the South Side by working with residents, and then over the last few years about building trust in Linden. We’ve done that largely by listening to the communities about their needs and making sure that they are our partners in this work.

Those communities traditionally have not always felt supported. It’s completely understandable that they may be wary about a big hospital’s plans. We try very hard to make sure they aren’t just a “big hospital’s plans,” but that they are organic to the neighborhoods themselves.


Collaboratory: What projects are you working on now?

Jones: Healthy Homes Healthy Families is accelerating its work around central Ohio, but we’re still focused on our five main prongs:

  • Developing affordable housing (especially rental housing) and helping people access it
  • Improving educational achievement, through everything from in-home pre-kindergarten readiness visits to college preparation
  • Driving economic development, which includes workforce training, but also things like free tax-preparation clinics and helping families build wealth through savings
  • Fostering health and wellness, like giving people greater access to health care and supporting them with nutritious food (through the Linden Fresh Market and other resources)
  • Providing community enrichment, through our South Side Leadership Academy, the Play Streets Initiative and other programs.

Collaboratory: Do you have a favorite project?

Nick Jones: They’re all my favorite, but I have a soft spot for the Upward Bound Math and Science program for students at Marion-Franklin, Linden-McKinley and South High Schools. As far as I know, Nationwide Children’s is the only stand-alone children’s hospital in the United States with the program. Nearly all the rest are run by colleges and universities – which makes sense, because the program is a college and career preparation program for students who would be the first in their families to go to college.

As a hospital, we understand how important education is to a young person’s future well-being, though. There are tutoring and mentorship features, ACT preparation, college tours, a summer academy. This can really change someone’s future.

That’s what we’re trying to do throughout our community wellness programs. All of them, from affordable housing to tax prep clinics, are focused on giving children and families their best possible lives.