The Ravalli County Public Health Department has tapped the MAPS Media Institute for a campaign to raise local consciousness around attitudes toward issues of public health.
Peter Rosten, the former movie producer and founder of MAPS, said the end goal is to focus on the most pressing concerns in public health, as well as help raise awareness of what goes on in the department, who the public health officials in Ravalli County are, and what they offer the community.
"We plan to put a human face on the Ravalli Public Health Department," Rosten said. "These are real people, people you see at Safeway and at church. It's not some big government bureaucracy kind of thing. No these are your friends and neighbors."
The Ravalli County Public Health contract - MAPS will earn $30,000 for a pair of projects - is an example of the end goal for a group that, since 2004, has sought to teach high school students to write, shoot and produce fiction movies, documentaries and commercials, then pay them for professional work they do.
"I pay these kids a significant wage so they understand that they have value and a future," Rosten said. "And what is more important than helping a young person? After 30 years in Hollywood I learned there's value in what we do. The fact that my partners are 14-18 years old does not shape the value of what we do."
Rosten's mission to create paying professional opportunities for Ravalli County youth hit its first pay dirt in 2005, when the Ravalli County DUI Task Force hired a then-Corvallis high school-based MAPS group to produce a pair of don't-drink-and-drive public service announcements. The PSAs ran on statewide Montana television for three years, Rosten said.
Other clients have included Marcus Daly Hospital, the Montana Student Assistance Foundation, the Montana Tobacco Prevention program and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
The Ravalli County Public Health campaign will unfold in two phases, Rosten said, starting with a focus group and subsequent survey that will address attitudes among Ravalli County residents toward immunization, preventative health care, and family planning, among others.
After parsing the community feedback they get, MAPS will produce a 30-second public service announcement for Ravalli County Public Health.
Rosten said MAPS is already planning for the focus group, which he said should happen next month. The plan from there is to put MAPS and public health department booths and/or survey takers at the major spring and summer gathering points, from parades to farmers' markets.
Both Rosten and Judy Griffin, the county's public health director, said the survey would entail MAPS putting in significant effort in traveling to every community in the valley to draw in enough of a cross-section to make the data worthwhile.
The goal is to better understand local thinking, particularly the apparent resistance to immunization, so that public health officials can take a better approach toward educating about the need to stay ahead of preventable diseases, Griffin said.
"We want to know, if you choose not to (immunize), what are the reasons?" Griffin said. "Immunization is a real concern because immunization rates are continuing to drop here in Ravalli County and Montana is lowest in the country. We're really concerned about herd immunity and whether there's going to be an outbreak because fewer people are being immunized."
The PSA, Rosten said, would be completed over the summer.
In the second phase of work under the contract, MAPS will produce a 10 to 15-minute documentary video showing the human faces Rosten mentioned.
Griffin said there is a need in her department to raise public awareness about a taxpayer funded resource that is there to help with health concerns.
"We just want people to be aware of the services we have in our office," Griffin said. "A lot of people aren't aware of the things we provide to the community."
Among the areas of focus for her department, Griffin listed disease surveillance at area schools and health care facilities and their maternal-child health program.
The entire project will be paid for out of funds provided by federal emergency preparedness grants, Griffin said.
Addressing the health department's role in health prevention, particularly in nipping possible public health threats with immunization programs, is one of the most important goals for her office, Griffin said.
"This will help us really determine what our greatest needs are" in reaching out to the public, Griffin said. "We're doing it with the hopes of increasing immunization and dispelling some of the myths about why we immunize against these diseases."
In other MAPS news, the afterschool program that has been running since last fall is now taking applications for a new class to begin training and working out of the MAPS facilities at Westview Center.
Those interested in applying to participate in the tuition free program should visit the MAPS Media Institute Web site: www.mediarts.org
Also, the current MAPS students have made some videos sharing their experiences from the past school year. Those can be seen on Peter Rosten's YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/peterrosten
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Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.