By Hannah Purnell
Independent grocers like Gutierrez Deli in Covington are carrying more fresh produce
Northern KY — In its first year of implementation, the myNKY regional plan has made important strides toward elevating the quality of life for Northern Kentuckians. But according to those charged with developing and managing the plan, there is still work to be done — particularly in the areas of health and wellness.
Earlier this year, in response to a report that ranked Kentucky 47th out of 50 states in overall health, Skyward and its regional partners came together with the goal of moving an additional 9 percent of NKY residents (20,000 people) into “very good” or “excellent” reported health status.
The result is LiveWell NKY, an initiative designed to empower communities, worksites, schools and faith-based organizations to implement the policies and environmental changes that are shown to drive improved health. For their efforts, participants will be awarded bronze, silver or gold “LiveWell” status.
The plan rolled out last month in five pilot communities (Covington, Newport, Ludlow, Ft. Mitchell and Gallatin County) where coalitions of more than 60 key stakeholders have begun promoting the plan to residents and planning programs and educational events to target three main areas of focus:
Increased physical activity
Creating a culture of good health
LiveWell co-chair and Associate Director of Center for Great Neighborhoods Dan Petronio believes a healthy community is a connected one.
“Covington has always been a leader in connecting residents to wellness resources, and that’s primarily because we’re so economically diverse,” Petronio says. “We’re home to a wide range of young professionals and blue-collar workers, people who are very physically active and people who are maybe elderly or disabled. We’ve had to find a way to connect these groups through various programs and events with a message of ‘Whatever environment you’re in, we’ll empower you to make the best possible choices for your overall health.’”
Petronio’s team is currently strategizing a three-fold action plan that involves rewarding grocers that carry locally sourced, organic inventory; improving trails and green spaces to promote walking, hiking and biking; and encouraging Covington businesses to adopt smoke-free policies.
“We’re looking for a movement and a culture change that allows people to vote with their free time,” Petronio says.
In Ft. Mitchell, a team co-chaired by Leigh Sassler has a similar goal.
A registered nurse by profession, Sassler has been instrumental in leveraging Skyward’s partnership with St. Elizabeth Healthcare — which included a $100,000 grant to kick off the initiative — with the hope of introducing a Community Health Day where student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing will offer free biometrics screenings and awareness seminars to Ft. Mitchell residents in exchange for degree credit.
Another goal of Sassler’s is to highlight the free resources in residents’ own backyard.
“There are well-maintained nature trails near Highland Cemetery that are great for daily walking and could work for community 5k run-walks,” she says, “but many people aren’t even aware that they exist.”
Business sector provides key support
HORAN Health Management Director Brandon Christin brings a different perspective to Ft. Mitchell’s LiveWell team. In his role as co-chair, he engages the local business community and encourages employers to contribute time, monetary support and other resources that will help ensure the plan’s success.
At a kickoff meeting earlier this month at Remke (one of several Ft. Mitchell business partners currently embracing the program), the team discussed strategies for bringing other businesses on board.
“We’re looking for organizations that want to assist our communities by providing whatever resources they can,” Christin says. “Many of these organizations share a common vision with LiveWell NKY, since healthier employees are often happier employees.”
In Ludlow, some independent businesses were already flying — quite literally, in the case of acrobatic performers Circus Mojo — under a banner of wellness long before the LiveWell initiative took shape. Circus Mojo promotes “civic action with a higher purpose,” hosting a full calendar of community fitness classes as well as corporate team-building retreats and an ongoing Circus Wellness Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The initiative has taken hold with other Ludlow businesses as well, including Folk School Coffee Parlor, a community-oriented space that prides itself on offering homegrown food and homegrown music. Co-founder Matt Williams will be one of several Ludlow business owners participating in a series of proposed community events that will bring local food trucks and free health screenings as well as interactive games and information sessions to Ludlow’s downtown area this summer.
With LiveWell NKY still in early planning stages, community co-chairs loosely define what success will mean for their respective communities.
“We want to introduce this in a way that goes beyond the standard pamphlets and brochures,” says Ludlow City Administrator Elishia Chamberlain. “But we also don’t want to overwhelm people who think being healthy means you have to run a marathon. We want it to be more about changing perceptions and introducing new, sustainable ideas for healthy living.”
Ambassadorship will be another critical component to the initiative’s success, with communities looking to one another for feedback and best practices.
“We’ve been inspired by Covington’s community gardening work for a long time,” Chamberlain says. “We have a strong Garden Club here in Ludlow, and we’d love to start building on that to create a public space where residents can come and get fresh produce, learn recipes, practice cooking and interact with friends and neighbors. That’s the type of progress we want to see initially.”