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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Perspectives August 2012: Celebrating Community Transformation

This month, AHA celebrates its 5th year working to make Wake County a place where healthy eating and active living are the way of life. In working on the Community Transformation Grant application recently, I had some AHA moments about our partner organizations’ role, and AHA’s role in transforming our community.

AHA connects organizations, their people and their programs to weave a fabric that ultimately supports healthy lifestyles. AHA also influences in some subtle and important ways policies, systems and environments that support our mission, too.
Many of our partner organizations provide services directly to individuals and to families: teaching them skills, imparting information, providing clinical care, even entertaining them. And some of our partner organizations provide services or support other organizations that provide direct services.
AHA’s role in supporting all our partner organizations is to help them create policies, systems and environments that support healthy eating and active living no matter what their mission.
One example is Wake County SmartStart. Their mission is to ensure young children are ready for school. If we are awarded the CTG, SmartStart will provide training and consultation so that day care centers can help kids eat healthier food and get more physical activity. As examples, the centers might switch from serving 2% milk to serving 1% or skim milk instead. They might change their practice of sitting kids in front of the television on rainy days to getting them moving with structured indoor physical activity instead.
AHA’s role in working with direct service provider organizations is to help find or even create resources that foster a culture of wellness into their existing programming.
A great example of this, highlighted in this newsletter, is the materials the Community Connections Work Group created for the YMCAs of the Triangle. The work group conducted a baseline survey of dads’ practices with regards to snacks served at Y Guides meetings and outings. Next, they created materials designed to help Y Guides dads promote good habits for their sons and daughters. We’ll see how well it works when we survey dads again next summer.
And, AHA has a role to play in the larger policy and environment arena, too. That is to “influence the influencers” who make our community’s laws, ordinances, regulations, and policies and practices supportive of healthy eating and active living.
An example of this is might be providing information to key decision makers on the role of community gardens and urban farms to the local food system. It might be talking to people who make decisions about our community’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to find out what the barriers are to making active transportation a viable option for more people.
It can also be awareness raising, such as promoting Safe Routes to School on Walk to School Day. AHA can remind adults that we used to walk to school back when we were kids (uphill both ways, rain or shine!), and engage the community in dialogue about how we can shape the way our neighborhoods are built and modify the amount of car traffic on our streets to make walking and biking safer and more feasible for all.
Making these kinds of changes in all our organizations will culminate in community transformation. And that is what AHA is all about.
by Sheree Vodicka, MA, RD, LDN; AHA Director
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