Each year, the Colorado Education Initiative’s Healthy School Champions program recognizes Colorado schools that have successfully created a healthy school environment. With the support of the Colorado Health Foundation, the program has awarded more than $250,000 in grants over the past six years. In 2016, 43 Colorado schools were award winners. Lake County Intermediate School (LCIS) in Leadville received the top honor—the Platinum Governor’s Award for School Health and Wellness, and an accompanying $7,500 grant—for its exemplary work integrating best practices in health into the school day.
LiveWell Leadville/Lake County Build a Generation has worked with LCIS and other schools in the district to build a culture of health and wellness for students, families, and the whole community of Lake County. “In our first year as a LiveWell Community, we worked with parents and community members to help them articulate their vision for a healthier school,” says Katie Baldassar, LiveWell Leadville Coordinator and Director of Lake County Build a Generation (LCBAG). “Some projects came out of that work such as the Lake County Intermediate School Playground project, a community-led initiative that we helped coordinate. But also, that work created awareness and momentum [around school wellness].”
Since then, the district has formed a wellness team and hired a school wellness coordinator committed to improving school nutrition, and the new playground at LCIS has led to a significant increase in physical activity (vs. sedentary behavior) for kids during recess. The coalition also worked with the school district to participate in LiveWell Colorado’s School Food Initiative in 2013, which Baldassar says has had a lasting impact on the healthy school food environment.
These and other early wins helped LiveWell Leadville/LCBAG gain community trust, a crucial component for success in the challenging and nuanced world of community health work. “One of our biggest challenges has been to figure out how to take all the energy in our community around the numerous needs and turn it into concrete and meaningful projects that can actually move forward,” says Baldassar. “There is a real art to channeling community in the most effective way, and our staff has done a lot of work over the last few years to recruit diverse groups of community members who are passionate about healthy eating and active living issues.”
Another major challenge is reaching the populations most affected by lack of access to healthy food and physical activity, who tend to have limited time and resources and face extreme barriers to healthy living. About 71 percent of Lake County residents are overweight, so finding innovative ways to reach low-income, high-risk communities is an essential component to LiveWell Leadville’s work. A Promotoras pilot project was launched this year, which enlists community members to advocate to and for their friends and neighbors. The pilot is already a testament to the importance of this health-equity-focused approach. Recently, Baldassar asked one of the Promotoras what she was hearing in her community interviews. “She shared that she was learning a lot about what the neighborhood needed, but that most community members think their voice does not count,” explains Baldassar, adding, “Those are the people we want to work with.”
Despite the many challenges LiveWell Leadville has faced, the group’s commitment to focusing on core values like community engagement, health equity, sustainability, and capacity building have led to continued growth and success of efforts to improve the quality of life in Lake County. “We really have appreciated LiveWell’s focus on capacity building,” says Baldassar. “A huge percentage of our success can be attributed to our growing ability to facilitate community change, engage affected populations, propose policy changes, plan and fundraise for infrastructure changes, and just generally move the work forward in a focused but collaborative way.”
Indeed, the impressive drive, passion, and innovative thinking behind LiveWell Leadville is forging a path to health that is uniquely suited to the community—and the team isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Goals for 2016 include working with the City of Leadville (a member of LiveWell’s Heal Cities & Towns Campaign) to adopt a Complete Streets policy, constructing a playground at West Park Elementary School, and piloting a fruit and vegetable prescription program, just to name a few.
To learn more contact:
LiveWell Leadville Coordinator
Director of Lake County Build a Generation, a project of Lake County Health and Human Services