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Chatham County receives grant for Southwest Park & fitness programs

Posted Wednesday, May 17, 2006

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Bear Creek, NC - Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC Foundation) has selected Chatham County, North Carolina as one of just five organizations across the state awarded the first-ever Fit Together grants. The grants promote physical activity and remove barriers to active lifestyles in rural counties.

The three-year grant of $114,000 will allow the county to maximize the potential of Southwest District Park so that nearby families, organizations and businesses will use the park for physical activity. The grant will help complete basic facilities at the park (public restrooms, covered shelter and lighting) so that the park can host fitness events and programs on a regular basis.

Special programs at Southwest Park will involve nearby families with members who are not physically active and/or who have weight problems. The program will include educational classes and fun ways to incorporate physical activity and healthier eating into their everyday lives. The park will also host a Fit Families Fun Fiesta aimed at encouraging Hispanic families to use the park for fitness and recreation. The Fiesta will also include fitness testing, educational materials and fun physical activity games.

“We also will reach out to local employers so that they encourage families to take advantage of fitness activities at the park and effectively address workplace barriers to employee and family fitness,” said Tracy Burnett, director, Chatham County Parks and Recreation.

The primary goal is to complete basic park facilities so that “we can actively promote fitness and recreation programs at Southwest Park. Up to this point, we have been somewhat limited in widely promoting the park because of certain incomplete facilities,” Burnett added.

“A recent survey of park users indicated that completion of the restrooms, safety lighting (especially along the walking trail) and a covered shelter were top barriers to more frequent usage of the park, especially regular usage by families,” Burnett said.

Southwest Park, located near Chatham Central High, is the county’s first district park and already has a walking trail, sand volleyball court, softball field, playground area, and a multi-purpose field that can be used for football and soccer. It is located in a part of the county with the highest percentage of families living below the federal poverty level (11.7%) and further away from urban park and fitness facilities.

Burnett said that several groups near Southwest Park have also started to mobilize around completing park facilities, including Friends of the Southwest Community, which is planning to host a walk-a-thon at the park on June 3, 1-4 pm, to raise funds for park facilities. The men’s group at Tyson Creek Church is interested in providing volunteer labor.

“It is very heartening to see this tremendous local interest in the park. I am confident that this local support combined with the grant will make a huge difference in increasing usage of the park by all types of people and groups,” Burnett said.

Interim Health Director Tim Green, who serves on the county’s Fit Together team, said that “this is a great opportunity to reach a diverse group of families who have unhealthy lifestyles and help them develop healthier fitness and eating habits. Poor fitness is a very costly health problem. This is especially true for low-income families, who usually have higher rates of obesity and inactivity.”

Burnett said Green was one of several members of a “strong team” that developed the county’s plan of action. Other members included: Bruce Murray, Chatham YMCA; Phyllis Smith, Cooperative Extension Service-Chatham County; Marissa Jelks, Health Department; and Debra Henzey, County Manager’s Office. Others who provided guidance included Vicky Calise and Vanessa Jeffries, both with the Health Department.

County Manager Charlie Horne said that the grant is the direct result of the creating a new position last fall to help the county more successfully pursue grants. “Debra Henzey came to work for us in September and almost immediately began to work on this new grant opportunity for rural counties. She played a key role in getting the team together and helping the group develop an action plan based on the grant’s requirements.”

Horne added that “it is wonderful for us to be able to complete several key facilities at the Southwest Park so that more residents will be able to use it for recreation and fitness.”

In announcing the five Fit Together grant recipients, Kathy Higgins, president of the BCBSNC Foundation, said that “rural communities face a particular challenge in providing opportunities for physical activity. “Sidewalks and walking trails may be hard to find, and some children may even have to go to the next county or to the state to find a park or sports league.”

She added that “what’s special about these Fit Together grantees is that they are working to create an atmosphere in which residents can conveniently incorporate activity in their day-to-day lives.”

Fit Together grants are modeled after Active Living by Design, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The grants are designed to promote innovative and integrated strategies to increase access and reduce barriers to physical activity in rural communities. Grant recipients must be nonprofits or governmental organizations and must be designed as a rural county by the NC Rural Economic Development Center.

In 2003, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina partnered with the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission to create Fit Together, a statewide campaign designed to raise awareness about the dangers of unhealthy weight and, more importantly, to equip individuals, families and communities with the tools needed to address this very serious health concern. In support of this initiative, the BCBSNC Foundation created the Fit Together grant program.

The other four grant recipients were: Gateway to Healthy Living, Camden County; Walking to Jerusalem Faith-Based Walking Program, Jackson County; Students Lead the Way to “Fit Together Move More Communities,” East Carolina University/Pitt County; Walk Walnut Cove, Healthy Carolinians of Stokes.

 
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