$250K Gift from Coca-Cola UNITED Will Help Live HealthSmart Alabama Launch Community Leadership Academies in Underserved Communities

Left to Right: Mike Suco – President and CEO, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. Christy L. Danzy – Corporate Community Relations Manager, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. Ray Watts, M.D. – President, University of Alabama at Birmingham Hafiz F. Chandiwala – Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH – CEO, Live HealthSmart Alabama, Teresa Shufflebarger – Chief Administrative Officer, Live HealthSmart Alabama Photography: Andrea Mabry/University of Alabama at Birmingham

Birmingham’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc., gave $250,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Live HealthSmart Alabama initiative this month, a gift that will be used to create Community Leadership Academies in the communities of Bush Hills, East Lake, Kingston, Titusville, Central City, Druid Hills, Evergreen, Fountain Heights and Norwood.

The LHSA Community Leadership Academy will pilot in these nine communities — with one, Kingston, located near Coca-Cola UNITED’s headquarters — and will identify, nurture and develop an initial cohort of residents as they aspire to become community leaders, learning skills like how to build a budget, facilitate a meeting, speak to large groups, resolve conflict, navigate difficult conversations and more. These communities are participants in LHSA, a program launched in 2019 that uses its signature pillars of good nutrition, physical activity, education, and prevention and wellness to reduce the incidence of chronic disease in Alabama, backed by the belief that health has a direct impact on communities.

Teresa Shufflebarger, chief administrative officer for LHSA, says communities will support community members promoting activities and initiatives that address better health.

“That level of ownership allows a different level of engagement and excitement to focus on efforts to promote and sustain healthy habits and activities,” she said. “Community members will have tools that will allow them to be self-sufficient, tools that will allow them to identify for themselves issues that impact the community and be able to solve for them.”

Coca-Cola UNITED — the second-largest private company in Alabama and the third-largest Coca-Cola bottler in the United States — is the perfect partner for this project, not only because of its 121 years as a Birmingham-based company, but also because of its longstanding commitment to leadership, Shufflebarger says.

“Coca-Cola UNITED has a strong leadership program within the organization and values the importance of leadership,” she said. “Through the Community Leadership Academy, participants will identify needs in their communities and address those needs in a productive fashion. To do this, we’ll engage the business community in Birmingham and include their expertise and knowledge in the CLA. Coca-Cola is an important part of the corporate community in Birmingham — we’re very fortunate that we have a large corporate community that supports the city of Birmingham in many ways. Coca-Cola is always a generous supporter of the city of Birmingham, and this partnership with UAB and Live HealthSmart Alabama is a further example of how Coca-Cola invests in the community in which it is headquartered.”

The LHSA Community Leadership Academy — which is all about grassroots actions led by local residents aimed at producing sustainable change — harkens back to the people-centric values that are paramount to Coca-Cola UNITED.

“At Coca-Cola UNITED, our people are No. 1,” said Linda Sewell, vice president of Public Affairs and Communication at Coca-Cola UNITED. “We have an associates-first culture. That’s how we operate. The Community Leadership Academy is about people in our communities. It’s about training them, developing them and engaging them so they can continue to be even deeper leaders in their communities, becoming powerful change agents. They already are, I’m sure; but now they’ll have more tools to do good work. People are the No. 1 secret ingredient for Coca-Cola, and community leaders are the secret ingredient for the future of these communities.”

At the end of the training, leaders will be equipped to apply their newly acquired skills to solve complex health and social challenges and can access mini-grants to put their knowledge to practical use. Each graduate will identify a LHSA issue, map barriers and assets, and come up with a fundable and actionable solution — none of which would be possible without Coca-Cola UNITED’s $250,000 gift, says UAB President Ray L. Watts.

“We are grateful to Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED for this generous gift and their continued support of Live HealthSmart Alabama,” Watts said. “The tremendous progress we’re making through LHSA begins at the community level, and this flagship Community Leadership Academy will train energetic and engaged leaders from within to advance neighborhood revitalization and improved health. The positive impact of these graduates’ leadership, service and partnership in our shared efforts will be felt throughout their own communities and well beyond, as we work to extend the LHSA model statewide.”

Adam Pope/UAB News