TILLAMOOK COUNTY WELLNESS: “WHY I’M IN …” An interview with Curt Shelley, Superintendent, Tillamook School District #9

The Tillamook County Wellness “Why I’m In” interview series highlights our community partners and what has inspired and motivated them to work toward the common goal of improving community health.

What drew you/your organization to partner with Tillamook County Wellness?
Shelley: Tillamook County Wellness appeals to me both personally and professionally because it is community based and incorporates emotional, social and physical wellness. These are three legs of a triangle. They go together. If one of the components is missing, it affects the other two. If our brain isn’t where it needs to be, our body won’t be there either and vice versa.

This is also about enhancing our quality of life. As someone who has type 2 diabetes, I want to live the healthiest life I can. I struggle to manage my blood sugars and I worry about my eyesight, kidney failure, obesity and all the risks that come with this disease. I am doing this for myself and for others.
On a professional level, having healthy foods in our school cafeterias is a priority for me. If I have a healthy attitude, and people see me eating healthy food, that sets an example. And I hope it’s contagious. I always ask people, “Is your attitude worth catching?” If our community can be healthier – socially, emotionally and physically – it’s a better community.

What, if any, changes have you seen come about as a result of this work?
Shelley: I’m new to the community and I can tell you that there is an all-encompassing awareness around health here, because of the work Tillamook County Wellness is doing, but also because of the beauty and natural surroundings here on the north Oregon coast.
Awareness is really the key. It’s like state test scores – if there’s an awareness that something needs to change, people start talking about it. Awareness grows and that awareness helps change the culture around that issue. It’s about those two things – awareness and culture – and I think there is a culture of wellness in Tillamook County.

What have you learned from being involved in this work?
Shelley: I have learned there is a huge need for this. People are reaching out, asking for help in so many ways. If we can change lives, one teacher at a time, one student at a time, then that’s what we should be doing. If we can help reduce one person’s blood pressure, this is worth it. We are making a difference. This work also makes me feel good. I can lay my head on my pillow each night knowing I am doing what I can to help our staff and students live healthier lives.

What are your hopes for this work as it relates to you/your organization?
Shelley: I’m not one for strategies and rules, I’m more about building culture. If you have the right culture in place, other things take care of themselves. If our community can swing the pendulum toward a culture of health, then we can improve a lot of other issues, like crime and drug use. We often talk about the 20% of kids who smoke or vape. What I believe we should be doing is celebrating the 80% who don’t. When we shine a light on the good things people are doing, it creates a culture of wellness – something I think we have in our school district.

What are your hopes for this work as it relates to changing population health in Tillamook County?
Shelley: What we are doing in our system now, sets the tone for the world our kids are going to live in. I want these kids to know where their food comes from and to be aware of how nutrition affects their health. Our kids need to be prepared to go out in life and be successful. I hope awareness around the importance of hard work and health comes back to our population.
It’s my hope is that we are healthy in Tillamook because we sweat, we cry, we work hard and then we feel so good about ourselves for doing all those things. I don’t know if we have that feeling right now and it’s my hope that it can be restored in our young people.
Ultimately, I would like to have played a role in improving the quality of life in Tillamook County. It would make me feel good to know that someone’s life was made better because of me or that our school system or our community is better because of my involvement.

For local health and wellness information, visit tillamookcountyhealthmatters.org or follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.