Chaffee County is known for outdoor opportunities such as rafting, hiking and mountain biking.
But despite its reputation as a recreational and agricultural area, the county still faces barriers to healthy lifestyles, and levels of poverty and physical inactivity are higher than the state average according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings.
Since 2009, LiveWell Chaffee County and numerous partners have been working together to reduce these barriers, and recent job growth in the health and wellness field demonstrates the demand and value for these positions in the community.
Marji Ackermann, marketing and public relations director with the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, has been a LiveWell Chaffee County coalition member for five years and has seen first-hand a shift in how local organizations and residents are partnering and prioritizing healthy eating and active living (HEAL).
“In its infancy, the coalition met with a wide variety of people on a regular basis to get to know as many organizations as possible. Once you build those relationships, then you can leverage their strengths,” Ackermann says.
The hospital is a prime example of how relationships have been leveraged to serve employees and the broader community. “One of the biggest steps we have taken at the hospital was to hire former LiveWell Chaffee County staff member Jon Fritz as the employee and community wellness supervisor” Ackermann says. The hospital CEO and staff recognized the value of hiring an in-house expert, and created the position last year. Previously, the hospital did not employ a full-time specialist dedicated to health education classes and outreach programs. Now that the infrastructure is in place, demand for resources such as diabetes classes and walking groups continues to grow.
“Wellness has been accepted as a good idea in general for the past 20 or 30 years. People were aware of the concept, but not necessarily ready to embrace it until more recently,” Fritz says. “The LiveWell coalition helped identify what was missing and advocate for policy changes—such as adding sharrows to the roads—to help change the environment and the culture. We’re working on increasing the health literacy and overall wellbeing of the community.”
Another key organization partner of the coalition and hospital is Guidestone Colorado, a nonprofit organization working with LiveWell Chaffee County on school gardens and Farm to School projects. Guidestone already grows food at the school farm that meets strict standards for school meals, and recently began supplying the hospital with fresh produce for use in their cafeterias. “It’s added value for both of us,” says Jennifer Tucker Visitacion, executive director of Guidestone Colorado. The hospital is able to utilize local, fresh, healthy items such as zucchini and tomatoes, and in turn, this has helped diversify support for the Farm to School Initiative. In addition to support from the hospital and grants, Guidestone offers sponsorship opportunities to local business, and sells produce at youth farm stands.
New positions have been created at Guidestone including a full time Farm to School director position thanks in part to partnerships with LiveWell Chaffee County and others. This position began as a part-time need, and has grown to a year-round position focused on program planning, garden management, marketing, and supervising seasonal staff members.
As LiveWell Chaffee County enters its “advanced implementation” phase of funding from LiveWell Colorado, much of the focus of the coalition is on ensuring sustainability of advancements made so far. Local partners are now prioritizing and institutionalizing wellness, resulting in the creation of more jobs in the community. The creation of these jobs is not only beneficial to the HEAL movement, but to the county as a whole. Creating these positions contributes to positive job growth rates and helps advance the coalition’s goal to create a healthier community. As more residents and organizations embrace healthier behaviors, this trend is expected to continue.