Grant funds help St. Croix County get healthySt. Croix County was one of 30 Wisconsin communities to receive grant money from the Transform Wisconsin Coalition in an effort to help improve the health status of Wisconsin.
By: By Emily Miels, New Richmond News
St. Croix County was one of 30 Wisconsin communities to receive grant money from the Transform Wisconsin Coalition in an effort to help improve the health status of Wisconsin.
Healthier Together, an organization started by Hudson Hospital and Clinics and St. Croix County Public Health in 2008, applied for the $160,000 grant back in May.
“St. Croix County is really fortunate to be awarded one of the opportunities because right now St. Croix County is considered the healthiest county in the state,” Healthier Together co-facilitator Karen Hansen said.
The $160,000 grant will be used to specifically focus on creating more “active communities” over a two-year period. Other areas of Wisconsin will use the grant to concentrate on expanding smoke-free environments and increasing farm-to-school programs so students have healthier food options
According to a Transform Wisconsin press release, the $6.6 million being distributed over the next two years will impact over half of Wisconsin’s population.
Healthier Together will use the money for a number of different purposes, according to Hansen. The first area is specific requirements set forth by the grant itself.
“Transform Wisconsin obviously has some statewide goals to accomplish, so all of us that were awarded the money are going to try and make all of those goals happen,” Hansen said. “There are a number of activities listed within the grant work plan that we are required to do.”
The second area provides a little bit more freedom for Healthier Together to “customize” the use of the money to expand programs that they already developed and develop new ones.
“Within that customization bucket we have the after-school programs that, in 2013, we’ll have in five of our six school districts,” Hansen said.
The existing programs are “Get Fit Challenge for Hudson Youth” in Hudson; Let’s Get Physical! Move More” and “Power up to 60!” in New Richmond; “Somerset Get Up and Go!” in Somerset; and the “B_Challenge” in Baldwin-Woodville and St. Croix Central.
Currently, the program is not in Glenwood City, but Hansen said they hope to implement it there eventually as well.
Though they are similar, each community customizes their after-school program to fit the needs and participants.
Teresa Kvam, a Public Health nutritionist and a Healthier Together steering committee member, helps facilitate the after-school programs in New Richmond.
“There’s always an activity and then there’s a nutrition component,” Kvam said.
Kvam said they try and make the programs fun for kids and usually incorporate a theme, such as skating, jump rope or chalk.
“We’ve been really pleased with the response to the program,” Kvam said.
According to Hansen, part of the active community area of the grant is working on expanding joint use or open gym agreements with school districts.
“A joint use agreement is when a school district shares their indoor and outdoor space,” Hansen said. “So their gym space, auditorium space, trails, playgrounds that they can share with the community at large.”
Hansen said that having joint use agreements help to provide free and safe space for physical activities for those who may not have access to gym and community center memberships.
“There’s the whole premise that if we really can remove the access barrier to recreational facilities and create those partnerships that we really can help support people of all ages becoming active,” Hansen said.
Joint-use agreements make the after-school programs and other opportunities possible.
“The joint use agreements are something I’ve really been a proponent of,” Kvam said.
According to Hansen, the grant will also help Healthier Together gain more volunteers and community support.
“Part of the initiative and part of the money use will be increasing awareness for Healthier Together and what we’re doing around the county and recruiting new members to help as we work toward active communities,” Hansen said.
Hansen said they hope to create a work group focused around active communities and physical activity, so they are looking for dedicated volunteers.
“By working with our schools who have equipment and space, partnering with businesses and organizations that have resources and partnering with community members that have passion and drive to help pull the community together, that’s the only way I think we’re can make this work,” Hansen said.
Patty Draxler, executive director of the Family Resource Center of St. Croix Valley and a Healthier Together steering committee member since 2008, agreed that working together and community involvement is key.
“We all want our community to be healthier and it has to start somewhere,” Draxler said.
According to Kvam, this grant is a step in the right direction, but Wisconsin still has a long way to go.
“Nearly one-third if Wisconsin four year olds in the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program are already overweight or obese,” Kvam said.
Kvam also said that around 25 percent of high school students are in the overweight or obese categories.
However, Kvam said she is confident that with the continued dedication and support of the community, these numbers will slowly but surely decrease.
“We’re all in this for the long haul and will continue to chip away at those numbers,” she said.
Draxler said she is very excited about the grant and using the funds to support Healthier Together’s goals and initatives.
“I think the grant will be wonderful because it gives us the opportunity to mobilize and move forward,” Draxler said.