The University of Arkansas at Little Rock University District has been named a 2016 Blossoming Community in recognition of the district’s efforts to promote health and wellness in partnership with the UALR School of Counseling, Human Performance and Rehabilitation.
The distinction is given by theArkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention to recognize nonprofit organizations, businesses, and neighborhood groups working to build a healthier community. The University District received the award at the organization’s Growing Healthy Communities Conference Dec. 1 in Benton.
The coalition awardsthree distinctions: Emerging Community, Blossoming Community, and Thriving Community. Those named as a Blossoming Community are working with diverse stakeholders, including elected officials, fundraisers, community volunteers, and professionals in education, health care, and civic government to create a healthier community.
Groups awarded the Blossoming Community distinction have also developed a strategic action plan that helps the community address concerns related to increasing access to healthy foods and physical activity.
Growing Healthy Communities, the coalition’s primary project since 2010, brings together individuals, companies, and organizations across sector lines to recognize that a healthy community is a better community on virtually every measure of success.
In 2011, Dr. Janea Snyder, an assistant professor of health education and promotion in the UALR School of Counseling, Human Performance, and Rehabilitation, received an initial grant of $18,000 to support the coalition’s mission to improve health by increasing access to physical activity and healthy eating to reduce and prevent obesity.
For the past six years, the School of Counseling, Human Performance, and Rehabilitation, University District, University District Development Corporation, Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention, and other entities have partnered to execute a strategic plan to become a healthier community.
The collaboration produced numerous initiatives the past five years focused on gardening, wellness fairs, cooking classes, farmers markets, and nutritious food shopping.
Some of the more popular programs include the UALR Growing Healthy Communities Wellness Fair and the Garden to Grill Cooking Class. University District residents receive a free one-year gym membership from the UALR Donaghey Student Fitness Center in exchange for attending the wellness fair. More than 200 University District residents attended the fair in October 2016.
“When I hear the success stories, I know that what we’re doing in growing a healthier University District community is benefiting the health statuses of many who reside here,” Snyder said. “This is what matters most.”
The Garden to Grill cooking classes teaches individuals and families how to cook healthy food on a limited budget. The classes also include a UALR health educator, a massage therapist, and dieticians who discuss exercise, stress management, and healthy meal plans.
“We try to encourage people to make well-informed decisions that are best for them,” University District Director Barrett Allen said. “We put the information out there, and, hopefully, they will start to incorporate those healthy behaviors into their lives.”
The UALR Department of Health, Human Performance and Sports Management also led a project to help older University District residents shop for nutritious food. Smart Shoppers for Seniors will continue in 2017. Through the program, nutritionists will lead grocery-shopping trips for seniors living in University District.
As a Blooming Community, the University District will continue to partner with UALR and other organizations to improve the health of individuals. With support from the University District Development Corp. and a grant funder, the American Beverage Association, the sustainability and expansion of the UALR University District’s Growing Healthy Communities efforts will continue to impact community residents in 2017.
“Although honored to be the recipients of the Blossoming Community award, our goal is to strive to be better by becoming a Thriving Community, which is recognized by providing data and demonstrating how UALR and the community’s efforts to make positive change help Arkansas measure statewide improvement,” Allen said.