Living a healthy life is easier when you live in a community that promotes healthy living. In Vinton County, there’s an effort underway to make it easier for residents to live safely and to embrace healthy choices. The Vinton County Creating Healthy Communities coalition (CHC) addresses healthy eating and active living through projects that will potentially have far reaching and long lasting effects.
The coalition exists thanks to a five year grant received by the Vinton County Health Department. Spearheaded by CHC Coordinator Jeri Ann Bentley, the coalition is made up of citizens, organizations and government offices that have partnered to provide everything from input to boots-on-the-ground workers. While the CHC has accomplished a lot in their first year, there is much on the agenda for 2021 and beyond.
The Coalition is divided into two subcommittees, allowing for volunteers to help with the projects they find most inspiring. The Healthy Eating Committee has been instrumental in creating a larger, more robust system of farmer’s markets in Vinton County. They have also created a healthy vending project and started a community garden this year. The Active Living Committee is working on a Complete Streets policy for McArthur, bike infrastructure and a major playground renovation project at Wyman Park.
A Vinton County native, Bentley is passionate about building a healthier community for her own family and neighbors as well as for generations to come. “A healthy community gives every person, regardless of age, ability or socioeconomic background the same opportunities to enjoy a good life, to eat well, to move about and to access all the resources the community offers just like everyone else,” she said.
Thanks to the CHC and a partnership with Vinton Industries, farmers markets can be found every Saturday morning in McArthur, Hamden and Wilkesville. Fresh produce, honey, Amish baked goods, handmade items, plants and flowers are among the things shoppers may find throughout the season
Vinton Industries is also spearheading the community garden where a $10 annual fee gives gardeners access to a plot of land as well as access to tools, Seven Dust and watering. Their program to offer healthy vending services and education for local businesses has been successful too. The goal is to offer a selection of tasty, healthier snacks that employees enjoy as much as traditional vending machine faire.
“I can’t say enough about Vinton Industries and what it has meant to have their support. They just took all these healthy eating initiatives and ran with them. It has really freed up my time and resources to focus on other things,” she said.
For example, she is working on a Complete Streets policy, written with support from McArthur Village Council. This will help village leaders plan for future projects that make the streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and people with disabilities. A walking audit last fall revealed many streets with broken sidewalks, missing curb-cuts and no sidewalks that are treacherous for pedestrians. “We aren’t saying the town needs to run out and put in all new sidewalks but we are helping them see places where new sidewalks are needed. We found places where there’s no curb cut so if you’re in a wheelchair you have no choice but to backtrack and find a way off the sidewalk so you can go out into the street,” she said. “By identifying the issues, we are making a sort of wish list that will allow us to make positive changes in the future.”
Pedestrian traffic before and after school will be addressed in the future too. “We’ve all seen how dangerous it is for kids just trying to get to school or trying to cross after school to get from the high school to McDonalds. There are simple, low cost solutions that can make it safer for our kids to cross the street when there’s a lot of traffic.”
The biggest project that Bentley and the CHC have taken on is a major playground renovation at Wyman Park. The aging playground equipment is potentially dangerous for youngsters. There are few opportunities for kids with disabilities to enjoy the playground and very small tots may struggle to play safely here.
The two existing large structures will be replaced with new ones. There will also be a number of smaller, ground level pieces of equipment like a fire engine and a caterpillar for imaginative play. Swings designed to hold children with disabilities, a sign language board, a tic-tac-toe board, a twister beam and metal park benches are part of the plan as well. A new rubberized surface is planned to be installed for enhanced safety.
CHC has received grant funding and some private donations have been promised to the Wyman Park Board but more funds are needed to complete the project. The Wyman Park Board has applied for some additional grants and is appealing to potential donors to help fund this project as well. Donors will be publically recognized for their generous support.
Meanwhile, the CHC will host Wyman Park Appreciation Day on June 26 from 4 p.m. until dark to raise funds for the playground project while celebrating the park and its importance to the community. Scheduled events are not yet set in stone but the group plans to have an adult cornhole tournament, vendor and craft fair, face painting, inflatable slide, food, live music, Kona Ice, and much more! This free community event will have fun activities for all ages to enjoy. Registration forms for the cornhole tournament and vendor fair will be available soon.
“We take pride in where we live and love our community. We just want to make it better for everyone, safer and easier for everyone to make good choices for themselves and their families. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last year but we’re excited about the future and all that we can do to improve this place we call home.”
Want to donate to the playground project or get involved in the other CHC projects? Contact Bentley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740.596.5233.