Building a Healthier Lansing


Eat right. Be active. Spend time outside. These have become common battle cries as issues of obesity and chronic disease have continued to increase.

But not everyone has the financial means to embrace the typical tools of a healthier lifestyle—gym memberships, exercise equipment, high-end health food—especially when the economy takes a hit. Luckily, Lansing has plenty of concerned citizens and organizations who want to make a difference.

Making a Difference

The Power of We Consortium, a self-described “network of networks,” is tapping the talents of AmeriCorps members to make healthy living accessible for members of all socioeconomic groups in Lansing.

According to Emily Thompson, an AmeriCorps coordinator for the group, the Power of We Consortium is made up of many local organizations around the Capital region.

“They are non-profits, county agencies, faith-based organizations and they come together for a meeting once a month to share resources and to let each other know what is happening in the community," she says.

The Power of We Consortium’s strength, she explains, lies in its many members who want to improve Lansing communities.

 “It’s really useful because they’ve been able to put together these initiatives to try and tackle things that one organization couldn’t have done on its own,” says Thompson.

Power of Partnership

“Access to healthy foods and access to exercise is not always available to people of all income levels and in all neighborhoods,” says Thompson, who recently moved to Lansing from New York. “The idea is to make that available to people."

The Power of We's health project is focused on improving quality of life for all demographic groups in Lansing. The two main goals include: creating, expanding, maintaining trails/greenways, parks and non-motorized transportation options; and creating, expanding, maintaining community gardens, sustainable food systems and access to healthy foods.

“That’s what the Power of We is really interested in and to accomplish those goals we are partnering with 10 host sites, which are local non-profit organizations in the Lansing area," she says.

To meet its goals, the Power of We is also leveraging the talent of AmeriCorps workers like Thomspon.

“The AmeriCorps is a national service organization run through the federal government that is considered to be our domestic version of the Peace Corps,” she says.

AmeriCorps places members all over the country to help with different areas of concern, ranging from environmental issues to teaching shortages. Workers each serve a one-year term, after which they can choose to stay on for a second and final term, or look for a different job.

A Healthier Lansing

As an example of the program's work, Thompson point to one of Lansing's Westside neighborhoods.

"The Northwest Initiative is hosting a [AmeriCorps] member and that area she says and that area of town is considered a food desert," she says. "So one of the things the member will be working with is putting produce that they grow in their community gardens in Quality Dairy, to make those foods available in local corner stores.”

Another similar project—the Weekend Survival Kit—is a partnership with the Mid-Michigan Food Bank.
 
For that project, says Thompson, “they’re working with kids who, for economic or other reasons, sometimes the only real meals they get are at school." So the program creates kits that contain kid-friendly and easy to prepare foods.

“They put together Weekend Survival Kits for kids—they pick them up on Friday and take them home," she says. "They are also going to prepare them to take over long breaks—Christmas break and things like that.”

And it doesn't stop with Weekend Survival Kits and putting produce in corner stores.
 
“We’ve actually put in gardens at elementary schools and the kids get to plant, take care of them, get to harvest; they get to cook meals with the team,” says Thompson.

The gardens in schools project is part of a school-based garden nutrition program, which also includes teaching children basic exercise. The idea is get school children accustomed to healthy habits at a young age, so they can grow up to be healthy adults.

“You’re much more likely to get kids to eat a brussel sprout if they grew it themselves,” says Thompson.

Economic Impact


The Power of We was awarded a $149,420 AmeriCorps grant, which leverages $80,747 in local match funding, all of which is focused on reducing chronic disease due to lack of exercise and lack of access to healthy foods. The monetary value of the grant is paid out in monthly installments. The Power of We was approved for three years of funding and can apply for a continuation for years two and three.

The economic downturn has affected the ranks of the AmeriCorps. As the economy has gotten worse, more and more people have been applying to AmeriCorps. Most are recent college graduates.

And the AmeriCorps teams—already a collaborative group—has had to be even more strategic. Volunteers at each of the 10 Lansing sites are working together to find ways to conserve their resources.

“For example some of the sites may have extra surplus from the community gardens they are running, and we have another member who will be placed at the Greater Lansing Food Bank whose primary job is volunteer recruitment," Thompson says. "And they will be responsible for picking up any extra produce and making sure it gets to people who need it."

The Power of We program, focused on creating community gardens and preventing food deserts, is unique to Lansing and the only AmeriCorp program of its kind in the state. The hope is that this Lansing program will be replicated in other cities in Michigan and around the country.

Community Impact

Eventually, the health project will enable 300 volunteers to provide 6,000 hours of service to the region, with additional volunteers added each year.
 
“I think we’ve got a great model that reflects the needs of many of America’s cities,” says Thompson. “Some of the sites are working specifically on community gardens. Some are doing gardens but they are also putting trails in to connect them. Some are working on ecological restoration projects along with trails, and to try and encourage people to use that as an [transportation] option.”


Daniel J. Hogan is a freelance writer and the creator of the Magic of Eyri Podcast. Follow Daniel on Twitter: @danieljhogan 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.



Photos:

Americore worker Katie Ellero brings food from the Mid-Michigan Food Bank into a school

Food to be distributed


Katie fills kids backpacks at Bingham Elementary School in Lansing

Andy Cease works with the Ingham County Parks to create hiking/skiing trails

A healthy eating tip sheet left in each backpack

Andy marks trail sections needing future work with a GPS

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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