A healthy local culture is a jigsaw puzzle with many small pieces. Many West Virginia communities are creating effective pieces other communities can copy. Here are three dozen such pieces.
By KATE LONG | May 5, 2013 | Charleston Gazette [Photos by Kate Long unless otherwise noted] Add fresh produce at convenience stores: Nearly 200 West Virginia convenience stores now carry fresh fruits and vegetables, including 90 Little Generals, with more on the way. The Bureau of Public Health’s Change the Future project gives the stores display racks to encourage them to try. The fresh produce is selling, BPH sources say. “It’s definitely selling,” said clerk Chelly Nicholson at the Amma Quick Stop. “Customers thank us for having it. Otherwise they’d have to drive 20 minutes to Clendenin to get a tomato or an onion.” For more information, contact Jessica.email@example.com.
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Raise money to fund healthy activities: Each year, Jefferson County volunteers raise money for their healthy children’s activities each year with a 2,000-person running event. Here, kids participate in a one-mile Fun Run. The Freedom’s Run (www.freedomsrun.org) pays for children’s running clubs, school trails and hiking programs. It is organized by volunteers from the West Virginia University School of Medicine, Shepherd University, Harpers Ferry National Park and local tourism groups, among others. “We’ve found a healthy way to pay for healthy activities,” said WVU’s Dr. Mark Cucuzzella. [Photo courtesy of Ron Agnir, Martinsburg Journal.]
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Add healthy school snacks: Kindergartners at Gilmer County’s Sand Fork Elementary enjoyed fresh pineapple slices, thanks to the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. By the end of 2012, 144 eligible elementary schools were receiving daily snacks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It has made a big difference in their willingness to try new foods and in the range of foods they realize they like,” said Principal Sue McCue. “We’re teaching them good habits early.” More information: West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition: WHAT SPECIFIC URL?
Start your own sports league: When Braxton County Schools said they couldn’t afford to offer soccer, Braxton parents decided to do it themselves. Jennica Barker is one of about 20 parents who coach a soccer league for more than 200 children at a Flatwoods field they lease from the county. Barker’s four kids all play in the league. “It gives me another way to be with them,” she said. All over West Virginia, parents have started similar groups for sports and healthy activities not offered in their schools: rowing, canoeing, mountain biking. Info on the Braxton League: ASK HER IF I CAN PUT HER E-MAIL
Teach kids what’s in food: “I think I’m going to cry,” East Bank Middle School seventh-grader Kaylee Hull said last spring when she saw how much fat is in six chicken nuggets: 20.5 grams. “It looks so gross,” she said. Physician assistant Mary Grandon, who runs the school-based health center at the school for Cabin Creek Clinic, showed Hull’s class one tube after another to show how much fat is in fast food. State Department of Education spokesmen say to counter child obesity, many schools are emphasizing healthy eating and awareness of food advertising. One program: http://www.fueluptoplay60.com/
Have a community conversation: Every Thursday, 25 to 50 people gather at C.J. Maggi’s restaurant in Buckhannon for a $5 noon meal and a session of Create Buckhannon. Anyone is welcome. As they eat, they plan ways to make their town healthier and more prosperous. “We’re just citizens, not an official group or a 501(c)(3),” organizer C.J. Rylands said. They have created a park, a weekly summer music festival and market and a city plan and are now working on safe biking and walking, among other things. For more information, type Create Buckhannon into a search engine.
Create a community garden: The community garden movement is growing fast, in urban areas particularly. Residents of Williamson senior citizen apartments can grow vegetables in community plots near their building. Kanawha County has six community gardens, and Clendenin, Dunbar, Montgomery and South Charleston each have one. “It’s about more than food. It’s about sharing with other people and learning from each other,” said WVU Extension agent John Porter. In 2011, one garden raised 3,000 pounds of food for Manna Meal Soup Kitchen. See West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition site. [Photo courtesy of Ian McClellan]
Challenge the community to walk: Last year, in Williamson, teams of 10 competed to see who could walk the equivalent distance to Los Angeles first. “Friendly competition makes it fun,” said Vicki Lynn Hatfield, competition organizer. Many communities have their own version. This summer, West Virginia University Extension Service is challenging all counties to its second “Summer Steps” program. The Williamson “lunchtime walk tool kit” can be found at www.scribd.com/doc/134080876/Lunch-Walk-Tool-Kit . Summer Steps info: http://livewellwv.ext.wvu.edu
Let running change the culture: More than 1,000 people belong to the Parkersburg-area River City Runners and Walkers Club (www.rivercityrunners.com). Volunteers organize more than 30 running/walking events per year, plus beginners’ clinics, daily runs and an extensive children’s program. Last year, they raised money for running shoes for more than 100 needy schoolchildren. “We wanted to change the local culture to include running,” said Sharon Marks, club president. “We think we’ve done that.” [Photo courtesy of River City Runners and Walkers].
Organize anti-diabetes classes: How do you keep from pigging out at a buffet or church supper? How do you exercise when the weather’s bad? In Roane County, seniors traded tips during a diabetes prevention class at the Amma Senior Center. Dozens of people are being trained statewide to lead such classes by Marshall University and the Bureau of Public Health. “We hope to have a statewide schedule next year,” said bureau employee Chuck Thayer. Want a class in your community? Contact Jessica.g.wright.@wv.gov or visit http://www.selfmanagementonline.org.
Find out how much processed food your school cooks are using: As of the end of 2012, hundreds of school cooks from 27 counties had been trained to cook more nutritious meals from scratch instead of reheating processed food. The state Office of Child Nutrition plans more trainings for the other 28 counties, says office director Rick Goff. Cooks who have successfully made the transition train cooks who are new to the game so they can share tips and best practices.
Encourage after-school exercise: In 2012, the West Virginia Statewide Afterschool Network (http://wvsan.ext.wvu.edu ) board voted to require its 380 programs to keep students physically active (not sitting) at least half the time they spend in afterschool. “Studies show that active kids do better in school, and we have these students with us five days a week,” said director Chris Kimes. “We can have a big impact on their health.” Here, teens at Beckley Stratton School’s after-school program play ball with the GenMove, a multi-game exercise program. REFERENCE
Promote mountain biking: Several school systems, including Wirt County, shown here, have made mountain biking part of a physical education curriculum that concentrates on physical activity students can enjoy all their lives. The fast-growing West Virginia Mountain Bike Association lists 23 races in West Virginia this summer, including events for children and beginner’s classes. North Bend State Park offers introductory classes and a mountain biking program. Visit www.wvmba.com/ridewv .
Help get schoolkids moving: Most schools provide little time for physical education or activity during the school day, so the Department of Education is urging teachers to get kids moving during class too. All over the state, teachers, like Sutton Elementary’s first-grade teacher Susan Schiefer, are finding ways to do that. Here, Schiefer’s students dance as they identify vowels and consonants in a game she created. Many schools welcome volunteers to organize activities at recess and before school.
Create a farmers market: Since 2008, the number of West Virginia farmers markets has approximately doubled, to 87, according to the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, making fresh food much more available in many areas. Markets range from year-round heated buildings to seasonal truck-tailgate sales. Philippi’s market, open four days a week, raised more than $23,000 for 98 growers in 2010. Morgantown, which averages more than $11,600 per month, offers cooking classes. See videos of several markets on West Virginia Farm and Food Coalition website. [Photo courtesy Bill Richardson]
Look at funding sources: Two West Virginia-oriented foundations, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Sisters of St. Joseph, have together poured more than $35 million into West Virginia health projects in the past 10 years. “I’m not sure what we would do without them,” said Don Perdue, chairman of the House Health committee. Kim Tieman (left), of Benedum, and Sister Jane Harrington, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, turn up frequently at health care meetings, in this case, an anti-smoking meeting.
Build hiking/biking trails: Charleston City Council passed a resolution supporting creation of 100 miles of trail by WHEN? They have some good models. Parkesburg’s Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department partnered with the West Virginia Mountain Biking Association to connect hiking/biking trails in six counties. In Cabell County, Huntington is creating the citywide Paul Ambrose Trail to Health, pictured. http://paulambrosetrail.org. More information on Charleston’s plans are at http://www.cityofcharleston.org/landtrust. [Photo courtesy of Rahall Transportation Institute.]
Start a diabetes coalition: With the help of Marshall University, 12 counties have created diabetes coalitions. They range from relatively inactive groups with occasional awareness events to Mingo’s coalition, which secured a $2.5 million grant through Duke University to canvass all households to locate people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic and don’t know it. Coalitions allow a county to combine efforts, seek grants and pull interested people together. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Run through the middle of town: Glenville has created an extensive physical activity program, sparked by a grant from West Virginia On the Move. “We are making running very visible, so it’s becoming a normal part of life around here,” said chief instigator Jeff Campbell. This year, they have more than 300 people signed up. West Virginia On the Move has given 110 community groups, schools and organizations an average seed money amount of $4,000. That small amount has sparked projects statewide, from playgrounds and church exercise programs to walking challenges and hiking trails. Visit http://www.wvonthemove.net or gilmercountyontheMOVE on Facebook.
Make sure your town has Face to Face: In this program, about 3,700 West Virginia diabetics keep their diabetes under control by working with a pharmacist who advises them about exercise, diet and good medication management. The program, offered to state government employees and their families, is proven effective in research studies. South Charleston pharmacist Kate Dotson helped retired schoolteacher Mary Ann Wilder keep her blood sugar in the normal range for years. Visit http://www.peiaf2f.com.
Ditto Weight Management Program. WRITE BLURB
Get community development training: About 70 West Virginia towns now work with the Main Street and Blueprint Communities programs. Both programs have added healthy lifestyle components to their training for towns and small cities. “The two go hand in hand,” said Main Street director Monica Miller. “Companies want to locate in a place with a healthy workforce and active lifestyle.” Here, Marlinton residents talk with their Blueprints coach, Josie Kuda. For more information, type “Main Street West Virginia” or “Blueprint Communities” into an online search engine.
Agitate for bike lanes: Wyoming County Clerk Bugs Stover says he feels a lot safer from timber trucks while biking on paved shoulders. For five years, the Department of Highways has paved shoulders as part of a new design standard. Stover is grateful. The 2013 Legislature passed a “complete streets” law that encourages DOH to consider bikers and pedestrians in new plans. DOH plans to build hundreds of miles of bike routes through the state, says DOH biking specialist Perry Keller. Visit http://mountainstatewheelers.org or search West Virginia Connecting Communities.
Support school breakfast for all: People who eat a healthy breakfast are less likely to be obese, studies show. West Virginia now offers three ways for students to eat breakfast: traditional sit-down, in the classroom or “grab and go.” Kermit K-8 School in Mingo County serves all children three ways. “We’ve had far fewer discipline problems and less tardiness and truancy since this started,” says Principal Dora Chafin. Statewide, 38 percent of children ate school breakfast in 2012-13. REFERENCE THE NEW LAW
Help people enroll for health insurance: West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is training hundreds of volunteers to help people sign up for the health-care exchange when, starting in October 2014, as many as 200,000 West Virginians become eligible for health insurance, depending on how far the state expands Medicaid. Many West Virginians will then be able to afford the early checkups that can prevent diabetes, obesity and other risky conditions. See www.wvahc.org for more information.
Bring a school-based health center to your town: Parents can help bring a school-based health center to their community. West Virginia started with 14 school-based health centers about 15 years ago. Today there are 88, serving 107 schools in 32 counties. In the past two years, 32 have opened. In Calhoun County, nurse practitioners such as Lisa Coleman (shown) travel to three schools, from a modern high school clinic to a grade school office in a portable building. For more information, visit www.wvsbha.org .
Find ways churches can encourage fitness: Many churches have decided weight reduction and disease prevention are part of their mission. Some, such as Gassaway Baptist Church, build gyms. Others are using the “Walk to Jerusalem” program. Mingo County’s Little Dove Baptist Church adopted the Arthritis Association’s Walk with Ease program for “Fitness and Fellowship,” stretching, then walking around the church building — 15 times around is about a mile. For more ideas: GIVE THE URL
Get out on the river: “West Virginia has beautiful rivers, and I’ve got grandparents on both sides who died of heart disease, so I’m determined not to get it. Paddling is great exercise,” said Brent Samples, hitting the New River in April. The West Virginia Wildwater Association, based in Charleston, organizes trips and sponsors workshops for beginners and rolling lessons at the South Charleston rec center. The website http://www.wvwa.net often has impromptu paddling trips anybody can join.
Let people use public buildings after hours for healthy activities after hours: This Zumba class at Braxton County High School was rent-free on the condition that students could attend for free. In many communities, public buildings and gyms are available after hours for activities ranging from yoga to square dancing. The county or city signs a joint-use agreement with the user. In Braxton, the high school is active after hours with team practice, college classes and now exercise classes. For sample joint-use agreements, type “joint use” into a search engine.
Get kids raising food: For the past three years, children in the Fayette County Schools have created raised beds, planted potatoes and salad, tended them, then ate them. “You never saw kids like salad so much,” said food services director David Seay. Nobody is tracking school gardens, but in 2012, similar school gardens were raised by children in at least a dozen counties, including counties where children raised container gardens. [Photo courtesy David Seay, Fayette County Schools] ASK HIM IF THERE’S A CURRICULUM
Start Girls on the Run in your community: The volunteer-run after-school program for elementary-age girls, involves more than 600 girls in six counties so far. New to the state, the program includes a strong character-building component. Girls train for a 5K event during eight weeks of twice-a-week running for fun. For information, visit www.girlsontherun.org and www.mountainstategotr.org .
Ask your grocery for a healthy checkout aisle: In 2011, three Parkersburg-area Walmarts and several Foodlands agreed to take candy and movie magazines out of one aisle and substitute fruit and toys that promote healthy activity. “Customers liked it. We had good sales,” said Parkersburg Walmart manager Kevin Ohse. “That’s the bottom line.” Now most West Virginia Walmarts have permission to open healthy checkout aisles. The Cross Lanes Walmart has opened the Charleston area’s first healthy lane.
Do a walkability or bikeability assessment: In a walkability assessment, volunteers — or sometimes professionals — use a checklist to inventory their community’s walkability or bikeability, including things like sidewalks, crosswalks, hazards and bike lanes. In this photo, two volunteers help assess Clendenin under a grant from KEYS for Healthy Kids. Checklists are available online: type “walkability assessment” or “bikeability assessment” into a search engine. WHERE IS THE WV-SPECIFIC ONE? CONTACT RON ECK.
Ask local officials to set an example: If you want to talk with Mayor Jim NAME in the Logan County town of Man (population 759), you can “Walk with the Mayor” on Saturday mornings. Most Saturdays, 10 to 15 people walk and bend the mayor’s ear. Once a year, for “Man on the Move” day, a sizeable part of the town turns out to walk. This year, 120 people came out to walk. CONTACT?
Help make a school fitness trail: The children at Lincoln County’s Midway Elementary School hit their new school fitness trail surrounding the school for at least 15 minutes a day, as a matter of policy. “It helps keeps them alert and ready to learn,” said Principal Cheryl Workman. Nobody keeps track of the number of fitness trails at schools statewide, but they’re multiplying fast, according to health coordinator Mary Weikle. Many are built by parent groups or community volunteers.
Make an online healthy activity schedule: Parkersburg’s OPAM (online physical activity magazine) — http://theopam.com — is packed with information about events in Wood County and surrounding counties: hiking and walking, mountain biking, fitness events, park building. “We see this as a model other communities might copy,” said editor Kim Coram. “It’s a great community-building tool.”
Get your sports teams involved: The Power mascot.
Create a summer camp that features physical activities and teaches nutrition.