LiveWell Colorado is the leading obesity prevention organization in the state of Colorado with a focus on expanding access to and education about healthy eating and active living for all Coloradans.

In an effort to further its work, LiveWell Colorado partnered with some of Denver’s most dedicated leaders in youth and community engagement—including Denver Parks and Recreation; Share Northeast Denver LiveWell; Globeville, Elyria-Swansea LiveWell; Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters; the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation; Spark Policy Institute; GSK; the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver; and Earth Force—to create the Youth-Driven Healthy Recreation Centers Collective Grant.

LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb
LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb

On May 14, 2015, Mayor Michael B. Hancock joined a crowd of nearly 200 people consisting of esteemed community activists, local politicians, media representatives, and enthusiastic youth and their families to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments made by the youth and their mentors through the $500,000 IMPACT Grant from global healthcare company GSK. The grant was established to start a community conversation about how to help people do more and live longer by creating solutions that fit the specific needs of their individual communities. The Globeville, Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods were chosen because of the lack of access to healthy, fresh, affordable food. Denver was the pilot program and due to its remarkable success and collaborative approach, this model will be replicated in the next three markets to receive similar grants throughout the U.S.

“The youth in this community have set the bar high,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “The transformation that has been made at these rec centers is inspiring. I can tell by looking around and meeting the youth that this program has truly impacted this community and for that, I’m grateful.”

The 18-month initiative focused on developing healthy eating habits, increased physical activity, and group collaboration in an effort to increase engagement and attendance at Stapleton, Swansea, and St. Charles recreation centers. The local community partners all brought unique strengths, skills, and audiences to the table, which created a unified group whose strategies were aligned with the common goal to improve the state of healthy living in Denver’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb
LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb

“The collaboration achieved amongst the collective GSK grant partners proves that working together for the greater good yields tangible results because everyone has a seat at the table,” said Noelle Melchizedek, Denver regional coordinator for LiveWell Colorado. “The majority of the changes implemented during the grant process came as a direct result of youth leading change with their families and collaborative partners to make the recreation centers a place where youth want to spend time.”

The celebration, hosted by Stapleton Recreation Center, marked the culmination of the program and attendees watched as the youth proudly exhibited their remarkable achievements. The evening started with food that was prepared by the youth with the support of Share our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, which included healthy items such as hummus and veggies, bison meatballs, and brownies made with black beans instead of flour. Then everyone enjoyed dance performances by the !mpact Dance Ensemble—a newly formed dance team striving to help girls with conflict resolution, body image and increased confidence—that included hip hop, jazz, and Bollywood routines. Finally, two gigantic new murals were unveiled on the gymnasium walls with bright colors that tell a story about the exceptional community. Another important aspect of the event was youth-led presentations demonstrating the impressive results from the grant program. The audience was engaged and moved by the physical transformation of the recreation centers, but more importantly, by the youth who call the recreation centers their “home away from home.”

“We learned through our work with the kids that the best way to engage them is by providing consistent and structured programming so they could build trusting relationships with the adults running the show,” said Lisa Bardwell, Director from Earth Force. “Because we listened to the youth and implemented their suggestions, we not only gained their trust but we also created new platforms that excited and engaged them beyond our wildest expectations.”

Families have indicated that the greater focus on healthy eating and active living has been very beneficial and the early findings are indicating just that:

  • 90 young people engaged in leadership activities (original goal was 50)
  • 92% of the youth are eating more fruits and vegetables
  • 85% of the youth are trading their electronic devices for physical activities
  • 70% of the youth are cooking meals with their families
  • All together, this project has contributed to a 256% increase in youth attendance at St. Charles; 387% increase at Stapleton; and a 975% increase at Swansea Recreation Center
LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb
LiveWell event at Stapleton Recreation Center May 14, 2015. Photos by Evan Semón for Reverb

“I have started to make healthy choices when I go to the store and actually understand what nutrition labels really offer me,” said one of the youth who participated in the Cooking Matters program.

Another significant result of the GSK IMPACT Grant was the increased youth engagement in the MY Denver Program, a city initiative to give young people access to activities within the city beyond just recreation centers. At the culmination event, Mayor Michael B. Hancock celebrated the tremendous success of the MY Denver Program as an important and continuing component of the revitalization of area recreation centers. Participation in the My Denver Program at Swansea Recreation Center increased by 975% since the collective began and 67,000 kids are now signed up across all recreation centers.

“GSK has a long tradition of giving back to the cities in which we live and work, because we believe that healthy, thriving communities are the backbone of our country,” said Jack Bailey, President US Pharmaceuticals, GSK. “Our partnership with some of Denver’s most  Innovative community organizations achieved some significant successes. We look forward to seeing these communities continue to benefit from this work for years to come.”

The program generated awareness and accolades from some of Colorado’s most influential leaders including Governor John Hickenlooper, Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Councilman Albus Brooks, and the local media. Some of the feature placements include The Denver Post, Univision, and KOA.