Region wins grant to boost healthy living

FAIRMONT – Programs that target healthier living through SHIP grants will be able to continue and expand in Faribault, Martin and Watonwan counties.

The tri-county area has received one of five highly competitive innovation grants of $545,607 that will be in effect until October 2015.

So far, SHIP has been responsible for helping implement nutrition and wellness programs in the area schools; evaluating Fairmont’s trail system; allowing farmers market vouchers through the WIC program in Martin and Faribault counties; and allowing local growers to deliver foods to the schools.

“With this grant, we’ll be working on implementation,” said Chera Sevcik, coordinator for the grant in the Faribault, Martin and Watonwan County region. “In the schools, the community, we want to continue the focus on wellness.”

Some of the areas of concentration will include continuing to work on new curriculum in the schools for more activity; and encouraging more nutritious options and more physical movement throughout the day.

For the community, there is an effort to help make apartment complexes smoke-free, and also to help health care organizations connect to other resources.

But two new projects also will be tried with the newest grant dollars.

“One is health options for the seniors … We’re going to try to target the smaller communities for active living, walking and biking,” Sevcik said. “Especially since in these communities, there are a number of seniors that may be mostly homebound, and we want to take a look at what would it take if these seniors would want to walk to the store.”

Part of this involves a health impact assessment for communities, including larger ones such as Fairmont.

“This assessment could help inform officials of what is wanted or needed, and let them know what direction they could take, such as a community center,” Sevcik offered as an example.

The second new project will focus solely on Madelia by testing new approaches to reducing consumption of sugary beverages.

“We don’t want to take anything away from anyone,” Sevcik said. “But we want to have that healthy option be more readily available.”

She said the model the program will use is based on one used in Boston. Last year, Boston-area hospitals and public schools worked together to reduce consumption of beverages such as soda, and sports and energy drinks. “Green-Yellow-Red” stoplight images helped people make healthy drink choices.

“The project from Boston has been adopted to fit a small rural community,” Sevcik said. “It hasn’t been tried before, so we’re being watched. It’s another new layer of innovation.”