Third Thursday – March 21st, 2024

Speaker: Rhegan Derfus

Topic: Experience with the Douglas area and food Insecurity.  


Rhegan Derfus, IBCLC, MSW 

AZ Health Program Coordinator in Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties, Arizona 

Univeristy of Arizona Cooperative Extension 

Rhegan has been working with families and communities in Cochise County for 14 years as a an early childhood child abuse prevention specialist, a nutrition educator, a lactation consultant, and a community engagement specialist. She has her Masters in Social Work and is an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She is professionally trained in the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework, which includes resilience, Adverse Child Experiences, strength-based approaches, and social-emotional development and was a co-author of a protective factor’s framework application curriculum- Flourishing Families. Rhegan currently works at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, where she supports a team to make dynamic policy, systems, and environmental changes in under-resourced communities with the goal of increasing community access to nourishing foods and safe physical activity opportunities.  She has two dogs that are absolutely NOT EVER allowed on the bed (but somehow manage to sleep there every night), loves long runs through the desert while evading rattlesnakes and javelina, and could give you a Ted Talk on breastfeeding advocacy, the rankings of all M&Ms variants, and the importance of normalizing grief in a death-avoidant culture.  

Strategic Doing Experience – Cochise County

In the heart of Cochise County, AZ, a collective of diverse community stakeholders convened for a Strategic Doing session, the focal point of which posed a compelling inquiry: “What would it look like if Cochise County were a food oasis?” The attendees were divided into regional groups, and among my group were representatives from City of Douglas, AZ development, a visionary spearheading a novel grocery store initiative, dedicated community health practitioners, and managers of nutrition programs.

Collaborative Questioning

Each participant brought a unique professional perspective, yet all were bound by a shared commitment to enhancing the well-being of the Douglas community. 

It swiftly became evident that despite our varying vocations, we could easily unify around an objective: the transformation of a traditional grocery store paradigm into a thriving community hub. Our vision transcended the mere exchange of goods; rather, it embraced a holistic approach to community wellness. 

An Actionable Plan

This grocery store project emerged as a conduit for local produce sourced directly from neighboring growers. Enriching the fabric of community life, the envisioned space would host an array of events, including interactive cooking classes and educational nutrition workshops, fostering an environment for communal learning, connection, and growth. Recognizing the pivotal role of healthcare access in fostering holistic well-being, we considered the integration of essential services within the store itself. Mobile medical clinics, offering crucial health screenings and consultations, would serve as a vital resource for those within our community who might otherwise face barriers to care. 

First 30 Checkin

Before our vision could take tangible form, however, it was imperative to discern the nuanced needs and aspirations of those we sought to serve—the actual members of our community. Our priority for the first 30 days after this initial session included the  meticulous crafting of a comprehensive community survey, designed to ascertain the hopes and requirements of our neighbors who would potentially utilize the community hub. 

Second 30:30

By our 2nd 30:30, we were heartened by the enthusiastic response to our survey efforts. The community spoke with a collective voice, articulating a shared desire for access to fresh, locally sourced produce, opportunities for education on healthy cooking practices, and critical access to healthcare services. 

Each survey response served as a building block for our emerging plan, progressively illuminating our community’s true needs. It was a profoundly humbling realization, marking our transition from mere dreamers to pragmatic architects of sustainable change. We were moving in the right direction, with our fingers on the true pulse of those we served needs. It was a humbling experience, realizing that by coming together, we were not just dreamers but architects of change. 


Because of our Strategic Doing project, amidst the shared dreams and visions, we found something profound: a sense of camaraderie and purpose. We were no longer strangers with different titles and roles; we were partners in a shared journey towards making Douglas a beacon of health and abundance—a true food oasis in the heart of our community. 

Continuing the Work

From this initial project, our networks expanded, weaving new connections and opportunities. More outlying projects began to take shape, each one a testament to the power of collaboration and community-driven initiatives.

These projects, born from our shared vision, will be shared in more detail at the upcoming Third Thursday gathering—a celebration of the process and the possibilities that emerge when we come together for the greater good.