This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.
Editor's note: Due to closures because of COVID-19, educators are moving SNAP-Ed programming to alternative learning platforms.
Trying to promote physical activity in Kinross Charter Township is a path littered with hurdles. The rural community about 20 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie has just one recreation center, which is not open on weekends. The community of about 6,000 lacks sidewalks, and it’s not safe to walk along snow-covered streets in the winter. Snowshoe and cross-country ski trails exist in the region, but they're not in proximity to residential areas. Transportation can be a problem.
“It’s hard in this area to get out and be active in the winter. I’m a fairly active person and it’s hard for me. It’s so cold and there’s so much snow on the ground,” says Kathryn Hills, LifeSPAN nutrition facilitator for the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD).
However, the EUPISD and other partners are working to promote physical activity and other healthy choices in the community through the Kinross Building a Healthy Community Coalition (BHCC). The BHCC was launched by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and has been embraced by the EUPISD and other community organizations.
With funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation's (MFF) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) grant, EUPISD is collaborating with community groups to help improve nutrition, health, and physical activity in the area. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. As a State Implementing Agency for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, MFF offers competitive grant funding for local and regional organizations to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout Michigan.
Kids fly kites at a sports gear giveaway at the Kinross Recreation Center.
“One of our goals is improving and promoting physical activity,” Hills says. “That’s one thing we bring to the BHCC. Our programming starts in the classroom with nutrition education.”
EUPISD’s SNAP-Ed programs include LifeSPAN, which promotes healthy food education through classroom lessons. Nutrition education focuses on students in kindergarten through fifth grade and includes schools throughout the ISD. The curriculum includes lessons in nutrition, experiences with fresh fruits and vegetables, reading relevant books, and physical activity.
Hills says their SNAP-Ed programs are having a positive impact on the community.
“I hear from parents that their kids are more willing to try new things, things they wouldn’t eat before,” she says. “Parents are more apt to buy healthy foods if their kids are willing to eat them. They’re not going to waste money on food kids won’t eat.”
While these efforts have been successful, there is more work to do to promote healthy living in the community. This includes communication, spreading the word about programs and events, and participation. Engaging parents is more difficult than children, according to Samantha Radecki, a community health educator for the Sault tribe.
To inspire the community, BHCC is planning its first-ever Spring Wellness event on May 14 at the Kinross Recreation Center. The event will include a sports gear giveaway for youth, yoga instruction, a three-mile walk, healthy snacks, and nutrition and health information. The event's goal is to encourage a more active, healthy lifestyle among residents of all ages.
“We want this event to bring people together, kids and their parents,” says Radecki, who will also lead group yoga sessions at the event. “We want to expose them to healthy activities and wellness. That is our whole purpose.”
At the event, BHCC will also kick off an effort to establish a community walking club. Participants will walk a three-mile loop through what is now a residential area of the former Kincheloe Air Force Base, which has been successfully redeveloped.
“The goal is to better connect the community. The intention is to promote social activity, to promote outdoor activity,” Radecki says. “We want to get neighbors talking. It’s not only about physical health but also social, mental, and emotional health.” For the Eastern Upper Peninsula, SNAP -Ed has been a catalyst for this important community change.
The Spring Wellness event builds upon another activity the BHCC held last year: a sports gear giveaway. Organizers collected donations of gently used sports equipment, ranging from hockey gear to dance shoes, from across the Upper Peninsula to give to local kids. Giveaways were held twice, and both were successful, drawing dozens of children.
A sports gear giveaway at the Kinross Recreation Center.
Organizers hope that the ongoing efforts will encourage more physical activity and healthier, more active lifestyles among the Kinross Township community.
“We’re getting some traction,” Radecki says. “We have a strong core group of people who show up every month and want to do good work in this community. We have had a positive impact on the community.”
She hopes Spring Wellness will become a recurring event, and that a planned 5K run in the fall will provide inspiration in autumn.
“We’d like to see them become staple things in the community and become something that people look forward to every spring and fall,” Radecki says. “We want to encourage people to invest in the community and themselves.”