The Union Recorder

August 28, 2010

Grant kicks off healthy initiatives for children

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — After Georgia College & State University was given a helping hand last year to help fight the battle of childhood obesity in Baldwin County, opportunities for physical activity and access to healthy foods have increased since the Center for Health and Social Issues was awarded a $360,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

As one of 50 Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant recipients across the country addressing the root causes of childhood obesity, Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Project Officer Joanne Lee said the goal of RWJF is to make sure healthy, affordable eating and active living options are readily available to each and every child and family in the community throughout a four-year period.

“The focus is to change policies, environments and systems that are going to make active living and healthy eating affordable and convenient,” Lee said Friday during a partnership meeting at Georgia College’s West Campus.

For the past nine months, city and county governmental agencies, organizations, businesses, faith-based organizations and educational institutions have collaborated to change healthy eating choices and physical activity levels in Baldwin County as part of the “Live Healthy Baldwin” project. Friday’s partnership meeting included presentations and discussions of the community’s progress thus far and plans to continue the upward transformation from July to December 2011.

“We have five focus areas for the next 18 months,” Georgia College Center of Health and Social Issues Director Dr. Jim Lidstone explained to The Union-Recorder and Lee at the morning meeting. “One is to expand the community garden; pursue bicycle friendly routes; try to put in a system to accept SNAP and WIC benefits at the farmers market; have a safe route to school with [the Fishing Creek Community Trail]; and improve nutrition in after-school programs.”

Part of the first $90,000 lump sum went toward the creation of a community vegetable garden on the playground of former Southside Elementary School in January for residents to plant, grow, harvest and share healthy foods.

“The community garden’s anniversary is in May, and it still needs to be developed more and have a water irrigation system in because using one hose all summer was difficult,” Milledgeville Community Garden Association Vice President Joe Metzker announced at the group meeting. “Our main two goals are to expand the community garden to school property and the Milledgeville Housing Authority.”

As part of the action team working to implement SNAP and WIC benefits to Milledgeville Marketplace Downtown Farmers Market shoppers, Jackie Nelson said parking seems to be a major issue due to the market’s weekly location.

“Milledgeville Mainstreet was talking about potentially moving the site ... but Georgia sounds like they are ahead of the game as a state in having the WIC program,” Lee said. “Locally, it sounds like you have really great folks here who see what the partnership wants to see — fair pricing for produce and what clients can get dollar for dollar.”

As phase two of the Fishing Creek Community Trail continues to make progress, the 9.36 mile pedestrian and bicycle pathway will travel along Fishing Creek from the Oconee River Greenway on the easternmost edge of the community to the Baldwin County Board of Education, the local industrial park and the Walter B. Williams recreational complex on the west side of town. The project will provide students a safe route to school and support riders on two wheels.

Bicycling Club of Milledgeville President Adam Heagy is an advocate to have cyclists on the road alongside gas-guzzling vehicles, a way to encourage children and adults the health benefits of riding and to move toward a bicycle-friendly community.

“The goal of the club is to put more people in Baldwin County and the community on bicycles to encourage physical activity and bring in additional tourist revenue,” he said before sharing ideas of how the community can become bicycle-friendly. “We know people living under the poverty line have less access to automobiles and it’s become a necessity to have an automobile in the community. This program is created to embrace bicycling policies... and when everybody gets on the same page with this issue, Milledgeville has the potential to change the way people get around.”

Action Team Leader Sandi Parker expressed her concerns and ideas of ways to encourage students to get out of their cars and onto the seats of bicycles or on their feet.

“The main thing we’re trying to teach children is this can be a self-sustaining program and a lifelong habit,” she said. “Kids can maybe have a local meeting place and have everyone come to one spot, park and walk to school together. We have one school that had four walkers, but now has 50 walkers.”

Rachel Sullivan plans to take charge in improving nutrition for after school programs within Baldwin County’s public schools, including High Achievers, Youth Enrichment Services (YES) and Georgia College Early College.

“I need to see what after school snacks kids are eating and see what a typical menu looks like, teach parents how to read nutrition labels and ... talk to local organizations about farming,” the Georgia College & State University graduate said.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities is an initiative of RWJF’s $500 million commitment to reverse the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.

“A large part of what RWJF is funding under this initiative is the connection of partners,” Lee said. “[The grant is] not paying for sidewalks, buildings or farmers market; it’s paying for their time so they can continue to work, create something more sustainable and create a more cohesive network.”