Neighborhood engagement key to healthy communities

Editor’s note: In our last feature on our 10-year report, we highlighted the efforts of municipalities that are working toward healthier communities. But neighborhood organizations are creating improvements as well, as you’ll read in this excerpt. Read more about healthy communities.

In addition to municipalities, neighborhoods also are stepping up with grassroots solutions to stimulate active living and combat the health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles. In 2008, Wyandotte County’s Rosedale area, an ethnically diverse, low-income community of 14,500 people, was confronted with an alarming statistic — 51 percent of Rosedale’s school-aged children were considered obese.

In response, residents — under the leadership of the Rosedale Neighborhood Association — took action. A community walking club and walking school bus were created, and Fisher Park was made more pedestrian-friendly with trail markers and benches. Community leaders also provided bicycle safety and repair classes through schools and supported Freewheels for Kids and bicycle rodeos. Additionally, five new sporting opportunities for local youth were sponsored in Rosedale, including soccer and disc golf.

“If you have a sidewalk in front of your house, you are probably more active than if you live on a busy street,” said Heidi Holliday, executive director of Rosedale Development Association. “We have the first mile of bike lanes outside our office and we just opened the first mile of trails at Rosedale Arch Park — we finally have the resources to carry out the community’s vision.”

Ivanhoe, an ethnically diverse, low-income neighborhood in central Kansas City, through the years has wrestled with a range of problems, including high crime, struggling schools, a low owner-occupancy housing rate and a lack of local businesses.

To address the issues, the community decided to concentrate on the assets of the neighborhood. “What we saw was a group of people who were willing and committed and who wanted to stay in their homes,” said Dina Newman of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council. “We also saw lots of vacant land and the possibilities and partnerships that could help address some of the major challenges of the neighborhood.”

Ivanhoe began working to make area streets and parks safer. Walking groups were created and vacant lots and abandoned houses were beautified. A community garden was started in 2012 on a lot provided by a local church. A new grocery store eventually came into the area, providing local jobs and improving access to healthy, low-cost foods.

“There is real excitement within neighborhoods when they know they’re in control and able to make positive changes,” said Gretchen Kunkel, president of KC Healthy Kids, a non-profit dedicated to reducing obesity and improving health among children. “More and more areas are seeing the possibilities of making real differences, and that’s why I think this kind of movement is only going to grow.”

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006