An Interview with Natalia Valenzuela Swanson, Program Specialist, Healthy Eating | Active Living
What is the HealthyCommunity50Challenge?
The two-year Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge, now referred to as HealthyCommunity50 (HC50), is a joint initiative of the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Counties to improve community health, with a vision of supporting communities in collaborative efforts to become healthier places to live, work, learn, play, and pray; recognizing excellence in achieving measurable impact; and identifying models of effective collaboration that can be sustained and replicated nationwide.
50 communities (including Spartanburg County) were selected to participate and those that demonstrate the greatest health improvements will receive a cash prize to support future initiatives. There will be one $500,000 Grand Prize winner and four $50,000 Runners Up.
Why is Spartanburg in the HC50?
When the national challenge was announced a few years ago, the Mary Black Foundation (MBF) nominated Spartanburg to participate. The challenge was looking for communities committed to working across sectors to improve health for all and Spartanburg already had strong collaborative efforts in place, so we knew our community would be a good fit. MBF believed that Spartanburg, if selected, would benefit from the national recognition and additional resources available through the challenge.
When considering the challenge, our application was inspired by Mayor Michael Meissner and efforts he had begun in the Town of Pacolet. Beginning in 2016, Mayor Meissner began holding quarterly “Walk with the Mayor” events in his community “to address two ongoing issues: Public Officials and their accessibility to citizens, and the rising obesity issue that affects many communities.” Mayor Meissner envisioned the walks as another, less formal, outlet residents could utilize to have a conversation with a town official in an open environment. Mayor Meissner is also a passionate health advocate, and he wanted to get people out and moving. His hope was that, through the walks he held in the community, other leaders would recognize the impact they can have not only on laws, but also on individuals’ lives by listening and helping lead them in a healthier lifestyle.
What initiatives are part of HC50?
HC50 includes two initiatives: Spartanburg Healthy Schools Initiative (SHSI) and the Healthy Community Initiative (HCI).
The Healthy Schools Initiative is a four-year effort to work intensively with nine schools in Spartanburg County to create environments that encourage and support healthy eating and physical activity. The focus is on policy changes and initiatives focused on long-term success and sustainability.
The Healthy Community Initiative is a new initiative partnering with Spartanburg County and other municipal governments to encourage residents to be more physically active. There are three ways the governments can get involved: 1) host quarterly walks with elected officials to encourage physical activity and engagement with elected officials; 2) sponsor physical activity challenges among teams within the municipality; and 3) develop worksite wellness programs through a partnership with the SC Hospital Association’s Working Well program.
What other organizations are involved?
Spartanburg is known for its collaborative spirit and the work involved with HC50 is no different. MBF and a Steering Committee representing a variety of sectors is working with the following partners:
- Arcadia Elementary School
- Boiling Springs Intermediate School
- Campobello Gramling School
- City of Inman
- City of Landrum
- City of Spartanburg
- City of Woodruff
- Clifdale Elementary School
- Lone Oak Elementary School
- Oakland Elementary School
- P. Earle Elementary School
- Partners for Active Living
- P. Dawkins Middle School
- SC Hospital Association
- Spartanburg County
- Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System
- Town of Lyman
- Town of Pacolet
- Upstate Forever
- Woodland Heights Elementary School
- YMCA of Greater Spartanburg
How has being a part of HC50 advanced the Foundation’s goals?
MBF’s long-term goals specific to healthy eating and active living are:
- More people in Spartanburg County will be at a healthy weight, contributing to lower incidences of chronic illness.
- Reverse rising rates of childhood obesity.
- Achieve health equity such that disparities in health weight among different populations will have decreased.
The HC50 challenge helps us address all three of these outcomes, so the investment is perfectly aligned with MBF’s priorities and goals.
What kind of outcomes have resulted from our HC50 participation?
- 496 people have participated in the Quarterly Walks. The walks have garnered a lot of local excitement; people like to meet their elected officials and really talk with them, so achievements are beyond just physical activity as we see that we’re also influencing civic engagement.
- We’ve had 214 people on 23 teams participate in Physical Activity Challenges. The teams logged over 11,681,000 steps! It’s been fun to see the teams compete for a rotating trophy. While some groups were very competitive, everyone was excited to participate and proud to be a part of the challenge.
- In the next few months, we anticipate at least 2 municipalities will reach Platinum status in the SC Hospital Association’s Working Well program. To reach Platinum status, the municipalities have to pass a policy to encourage and allow for employees to use paid time to engage in physical activity. This means that increasing physical activity becomes sustainable and will continue beyond the current challenge as employees are supported long term.
- Through the Spartanburg Healthy Schools Initiative, we are funding projects that change the environment/policy of schools to ensure changes are long-lasting and sustainable. Schools have installed water-bottle refilling stations and built walking trails for school and community use.
- Finally, Spartanburg has gained national recognition through HC50. Last summer, County Councilman Justin Bradley represented us at the HC50 national gathering where we learned from other communities and shared our story. This kind of recognition may open up future opportunities for Spartanburg to bring in more investments for our initiatives.
What’s next for HC50?
On May 19, our partners will host the next quarterly Walk with Your Elected Official. The walk will be co-hosted by Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and will feature local healthcare providers at each walk. Find your area’s walk location and start time on the Quarterly Walks section of this website.
Also, on May 19, we will kick off a physical activity challenge to encourage people to be more active.
The national challenge will be coming to an end this fall and the HC50 prize winners will be announced. While, of course, we are hopeful that Spartanburg will win one of the prizes, we believe Spartanburg has already benefited from participating in HC50!
Want to learn more about HC50? Email Natalia at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check our blog for more updates.